Lisa Grant Ludwig

The moment magnitude (Mw) 7.9 Fort Tejon earthquake of 1857, with a ~350-kilometer-long surface rupture, was the most recent major earthquake along the south-central San Andreas Fault, California. Based on previous measurements of its surface slip distribution, rupture along the ~60-kilometer-long Carrizo segment was thought to control the recurrence of 1857-like earthquakes.

A paleoseismic study conducted along the Cholame segment of the San Andreas fault provides evidence for three earthquakes and the amount of lateral offset for the most recent event (1857 Fort Tejon earthquake).

We conducted a paleoseismic study on the San Andreas fault (SAF) southeast of Cholame, California, to investigate the record of earthquakes along an 80-km paleoseismic data gap between Parkfield and the Carrizo Plain.

Changes since 1855 in reported section-line lengths and positions of survey monuments that span the San Andreas fault (SAF) were used to measure displacement interpreted to be from the 1857 Fort Tejon earthquake in south-central California. In 1855–1856 James E. Freeman established township and range lines across the SAF between Rancho Cholame and the northern Carrizo Plain. At least 26 1-mile sections lines spanned the SAF in the area between present-day California Highways 46 and 58. Each section line was marked by monuments at the midpoint and endpoints.

The spatial and temporal distribution of fault slip is a critical parameter in earthquake source models. Previous geomorphic and geologic studies of channel offset along the Carrizo section of the south central San Andreas Fault assumed that channels form more frequently than earthquakes occur and suggested that repeated large-slip earthquakes similar to the 1857 Fort Tejon earthquake illustrate typical fault behavior. We found that offset channels in the Carrizo Plain incised less frequently than they were offset by earthquakes.

It is important to determine variability in time between earthquakes to constrain uncertainty in probabilistic calculations of rupture potential. Results from our field work since 2005 at the Bidart site in the Carrizo Plain and new radiocarbon dates from archival samples collected for Grant’s 1993 dissertation reveal evidence of six ruptures of the San Andreas fault (SAF) between 1345 and 1857 AD.

Exposures we have excavated across the San Andreas fault contradict the hypothesis that part of the fault in the Carrizo Plain is unusually strong and experiences relatively infrequent rupture. The exposures record evidence of at least seven surface-rupturing earthquakes which have been approximately dated by accelerated mass spectrometry radiocarbon analysis of detrital charcoal and buried in situ plants.

The smallest geomorphic offsets along a 35 km section of the San Andreas fault in the Carrizo Plain vary from 7 to 10 m. Our three-dimensional excavation of alluvial deposits a few km southeast of Wallace Creek confirms that at least 6.6 to 6.9 m of dextral slip occurred there during the latest large earthquake, in 1857.

Two monuments from an 1855 cadastral survey that span the San Andreas fault in the Carrizo Plain have been right-laterally displaced 11.0 ± 2.5 m by the 1857 Fort Tejon earthquake and associated seismicity and afterslip. This measurement confirms that at least 9.5 ± 0.5 m of slip occurred along the main fault trace, as suggested by measurements of offset channels near Wallace Creek.

Paleoseismological data constrain the age, location, and associated magnitude of past surface-rupturing earthquakes; these are critical parameters for developing and testing fault behavior models and characterizing seismic hazard. We present new earthquake evidence and radiocarbon analyses that refine the chronology of the six most recent earthquakes that ruptured the south-central San Andreas fault in the Carrizo Plain (California, United States) at the Bidart Fan site.

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