Bridging spatiotemporal scales of fault growth during continental extension

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Sophie Pan , John Naliboff, Rebecca E. Bell, Chris Jackson


Continental extension is accommodated by the development of kilometre-scale normal faults, which grow by accumulating metre-scale earthquake slip over millions of years. Reconstructing the entire lifespan of a fault remains challenging due to a lack of observational data with spatiotemporal scales that span the relatively short-term earthquake cycle, and the longer-term paleoseismic record. Using 3D numerical simulations of continental extension and novel fault extraction, we examine key factors controlling the growth of large faults over 10^4-10^6 yrs. Modelled faults quantitatively show key geometric and kinematic similarities with natural fault populations, with early faults (<100 kyrs from initiation) exhibiting scaling ratios consistent with those characterising individual earthquake ruptures. While finite lengths are rapidly established (<100 kyrs), active deformation is transient, migrating both along- and across-strike. Competing stress interactions determine the active strain distribution, which oscillate locally between localised and distributed endmembers. Modelling suggests that far-field dynamic triggering can drive rupture propagation, producing recurring, large through-going slip. Our findings demonstrate that fault growth and the related occurrence of earthquakes is more complex than that currently inferred from observing displacement patterns on now-inactive structures, which only provide a spatial- and time-averaged picture of fault kinematics and related geohazard.



Earth Sciences, Geology, Geophysics and Seismology, Other Earth Sciences, Physical Sciences and Mathematics, Tectonics and Structure


seismic, rifts, faults, networks, normal, numerical, models, transient, timescales


Published: 2021-04-21 11:52

Last Updated: 2021-06-13 06:52

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CC BY Attribution 4.0 International

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