Active fault

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An active fault is a fault that is likely to become the source of another earthquake sometime in the future. Geologists commonly consider faults to be active if there has been movement observed or evidence of seismic activity during the last 10,000 years. [1]

In geology, a fault is a planar fracture or discontinuity in a volume of rock, across which there has been significant displacement as a result of rock-mass movement. Large faults within the Earth's crust result from the action of plate tectonic forces, with the largest forming the boundaries between the plates, such as subduction zones or transform faults. Energy release associated with rapid movement on active faults is the cause of most earthquakes.

Earthquake Shaking of the surface of the earth caused by a sudden release of energy in the crust

An earthquake is the shaking of the surface of the Earth, resulting from the sudden release of energy in the Earth's lithosphere that creates seismic waves. Earthquakes can range in size from those that are so weak that they cannot be felt to those violent enough to toss people around and destroy whole cities. The seismicity, or seismic activity, of an area is the frequency, type and size of earthquakes experienced over a period of time. The word tremor is also used for non-earthquake seismic rumbling.


Active faulting is considered to be a geologic hazard - one related to earthquakes as a cause. Effects of movement on an active fault include strong ground motion, surface faulting, tectonic deformation, landslides and rockfalls, liquefaction, tsunamis, and seiches. [2]

Strong ground motion

In seismology, strong ground motion is the strong earthquake shaking that occurs close to a causative fault. The strength of the shaking involved in strong ground motion usually overwhelms a seismometer, forcing the use of accelerographs for recording. The science of strong ground motion also deals with the variations of fault rupture, both in total displacement, energy released, and rupture velocity.

Tectonics The processes that control the structure and properties of the Earths crust and its evolution through time

Tectonics is the process that controls the structure and properties of the Earth's crust and its evolution through time. In particular, it describes the processes of mountain building, the growth and behavior of the strong, old cores of continents known as cratons, and the ways in which the relatively rigid plates that constitute the Earth's outer shell interact with each other. Tectonics also provides a framework for understanding the earthquake and volcanic belts that directly affect much of the global population. Tectonic studies are important as guides for economic geologists searching for fossil fuels and ore deposits of metallic and nonmetallic resources. An understanding of tectonic principles is essential to geomorphologists to explain erosion patterns and other Earth surface features.

Landslide type of natural disaster, geological phenomenon

The term landslide or, less frequently, landslip, refers to several forms of mass wasting that include a wide range of ground movements, such as rockfalls, deep-seated slope failures, mudflows and debris flows. Landslides occur in a variety of environments, characterized by either steep or gentle slope gradients: from mountain ranges to coastal cliffs or even underwater, in which case they are called submarine landslides. Gravity is the primary driving force for a landslide to occur, but there are other factors affecting slope stability which produce specific conditions that make a slope prone to failure. In many cases, the landslide is triggered by a specific event, although this is not always identifiable.

Quaternary faults are those active faults that have been recognized at the surface and which have evidence of movement in the past 1.6 million years - the duration of the Quaternary Period. [3]

Quaternary is the current and most recent of the three periods of the Cenozoic Era in the geologic time scale of the International Commission on Stratigraphy (ICS). It follows the Neogene Period and spans from 2.588 ± 0.005 million years ago to the present. The Quaternary Period is divided into two epochs: the Pleistocene and the Holocene. The informal term "Late Quaternary" refers to the past 0.5–1.0 million years.

Related geological disciplines for active-fault studies include geomorphology, seismology, reflection seismology, plate tectonics, geodetics and remote sensing, risk analysis, and others. [2]

Geology The study of the composition, structure, physical properties, and history of Earths components, and the processes by which they are shaped.

Geology is an earth science concerned with the solid Earth, the rocks of which it is composed, and the processes by which they change over time. Geology can also refer to the study of the solid features of any terrestrial planet or natural satellite such as Mars or the Moon. Modern geology significantly overlaps all other earth sciences, including hydrology and the atmospheric sciences, and so is treated as one major aspect of integrated earth system science and planetary science.

Geomorphology The scientific study of landforms and the processes that shape them

Geomorphology is the scientific study of the origin and evolution of topographic and bathymetric features created by physical, chemical or biological processes operating at or near the Earth's surface. Geomorphologists seek to understand why landscapes look the way they do, to understand landform history and dynamics and to predict changes through a combination of field observations, physical experiments and numerical modeling. Geomorphologists work within disciplines such as physical geography, geology, geodesy, engineering geology, archaeology, climatology and geotechnical engineering. This broad base of interests contributes to many research styles and interests within the field.

Seismology The scientific study of earthquakes and propagation of elastic waves through a planet

Seismology is the scientific study of earthquakes and the propagation of elastic waves through the Earth or through other planet-like bodies. The field also includes studies of earthquake environmental effects such as tsunamis as well as diverse seismic sources such as volcanic, tectonic, oceanic, atmospheric, and artificial processes such as explosions. A related field that uses geology to infer information regarding past earthquakes is paleoseismology. A recording of earth motion as a function of time is called a seismogram. A seismologist is a scientist who does research in seismology.


Active faults tend to occur in the vicinity of tectonic plate boundaries, and active fault research has focused on these regions. Active faults tend to occur less within the area of any given plate. The fact that intraplate regions may also present seismic hazards has only recently been recognized. [2]


Various geologic methods are used to define the boundaries of an active fault such as remote sensing and magnetic measurements, as well as other ways. Several types of data, such as seismologic reports or records over time, are used to gauge fault activity. Activity and fault area are correlated, and risk analysis is employed with other factors to determine the potential earthquake hazard. [2]

Remote sensing Acquisition of information at a significant distance from the subject

Remote sensing is the acquisition of information about an object or phenomenon without making physical contact with the object and thus in contrast to on-site observation, especially the Earth. Remote sensing is used in numerous fields, including geography, land surveying and most Earth Science disciplines ; it also has military, intelligence, commercial, economic, planning, and humanitarian applications.

Geologic conditions in U.S.

The geologic conditions and plate tectonic setting in much of the Western U.S. has resulted in the region being underlain by relatively thin crust and having high heat flow, both of which can favor relatively high deformation rates and active faulting.

In contrast, in the Central and Eastern U.S. (CEUS) the crust is thicker, colder, older, and more stable. Furthermore, the CEUS is thousands of miles from active plate boundaries, so the rates of deformation are low in this region. Nevertheless, the CEUS has had some rather large earthquakes in historical times, including a series of major earthquakes near New Madrid, Missouri in 1811–1812, a large earthquake near Charleston, South Carolina in 1886, and the Cape Ann earthquake northeast of Boston in 1755. [3] [4]

Related Research Articles

Intraplate earthquake Earthquake that occurs within the interior of a tectonic plate

The term intraplate earthquake refers to a variety of earthquake that occurs within the interior of a tectonic plate; this stands in contrast to an interplate earthquake, which occurs at the boundary of a tectonic plate.


Earthscope is an earth science program using geological and geophysical techniques to explore the structure and evolution of the North American continent and to understand the processes controlling earthquakes and volcanoes. The project has three components: USARRAY, the Plate Boundary Observatory, and the San Andreas Fault Observatory at Depth.

2002 Molise earthquake

The 2002 Molise earthquake hit the Italian regions of Molise and Apulia on 31 October at 10:32:58 (UTC). The shock had a moment magnitude of 5.9 and a depth of 10.0 km (6.2 mi). Most of the victims were killed and injured when a school collapsed in the town of San Giuliano di Puglia: 26 of the 51 schoolchildren died, together with one of their teachers. In particular, none of the nine children in the school's 4th Year survived.

Neotectonics, a subdiscipline of tectonics, is the study of the motions and deformations of Earth's crust that are current or recent in geologic time. The term may also refer to the motions/deformations in question themselves. Geologists refer to the corresponding time-frame as the neotectonic period, and to the preceding time as the palaeotectonic period.

1797 Riobamba earthquake

The 1797 Riobamba earthquake occurred at 12:30 UTC on 4 February. It devastated the city of Riobamba and many other cities in the Interandean valley, causing between 6,000–40,000 casualties. It is estimated that seismic intensities in the epicentral area reached at least XI (Extreme) on the Mercalli intensity scale, and that the earthquake had a magnitude of 8.3, the most powerful historical event known in Ecuador. The earthquake was studied by Alexander von Humboldt, when he visited the area in 1801–1802.

Earthquake activity in the New York City area

Although the eastern United States is not as seismically active as regions near plate boundaries, large and damaging earthquakes do occur there. Furthermore, when these rare eastern U.S. earthquakes occur, the areas affected by them are much larger than for western U.S. earthquakes of the same magnitude. Thus, earthquakes represent at least a moderate hazard to East Coast cities, including New York City and adjacent areas of very high population density.

Southern California faults

Most of central and northern California rests on a crustal block (terrane) that is being torn from the North American continent by the passing Pacific plate of oceanic crust. Southern California lies at the southern end of this block, where the Southern California faults create a complex and even chaotic landscape of seismic activity.

Outline of geophysics Topics in the physics of the Earth and its vicinity

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to geophysics:

2011 Oklahoma earthquake second-strongest Oklahoma earthquake on record, centered near Prague

The 2011 Oklahoma earthquake was a 5.7 magnitude intraplate earthquake which occurred near Prague, Oklahoma on November 5 at 10:53 p.m. CDT in the U.S. state of Oklahoma. The epicenter of the earthquake was in the vicinity of several active wastewater injection wells. According to the United States Geological Survey (USGS), it was the most powerful earthquake ever recorded in Oklahoma; this record was surpassed by the 2016 Oklahoma earthquake. The previous record was a 5.5 magnitude earthquake that struck near the town of El Reno in 1952. The quake's epicenter was approximately 44 miles (71 km) east-northeast of Oklahoma City, near the town of Sparks and was felt in the neighboring states of Texas, Arkansas, Kansas and Missouri and even as far away as Tennessee and Wisconsin. The quake followed several minor quakes earlier in the day, including a 4.7 magnitude foreshock. The quake had a maximum perceived intensity of VIII (Severe) on the Mercalli intensity scale in the area closest to the epicenter. Numerous aftershocks were detected after the main quake, with a few registering at 4.0 magnitude.

El Tigre Fault

The El Tigre Fault is a 120 km long, roughly north-south trending, major strike-slip fault located in the Western Precordillera in Argentina. The Precordillera lies just to the east of the Andes mountain range in South America. The northern boundary of the fault is the Jáchal River and its southern boundary is the San Juan River. The fault is divided into three sections based on fault trace geometry, Northern extending between 41–46 km in length, Central extending between 48–53 km in length, and Southern extending 26 km in length. The fault displays a right-lateral (horizontal) motion and has formed in response to stresses from the Nazca Plate subducting under the South American Plate. It is a major fault with crustal significance. The Andes Mountain belt trends with respect to the Nazca Plate/South American Plate convergence zone, and deformation is divided between the Precordilleran thrust faults and the El Tigre strike-slip motion. The El Tigre Fault is currently seismically active.

The National Centre for Seismology (NCS) is an office of India's Ministry of Earth Sciences. The office monitors earthquakes and conducts seismological research. Specifically, it provides earthquake surveillance and hazard reports to governmental agencies. It consists of various divisions:

Jeanne Hardebeck is an expert in earthquakes and seismology. She has a Ph.D. in Geophysics and has worked as a Research Geophysicist for the United States Geological Survey (USGS) since 2004. Throughout her career, Hardebeck has dedicated herself to her work and has provided critical contributions to her field including the development of new research methods to better understand issues such as the state of stress and the strength of faults.


  1. "Active fault" (online web page). Earthquake Glossary. USGS Earthquake Hazards Program. November 3, 2009. Retrieved 2011-09-17.
  2. 1 2 3 4 Slemmons, D. Burton; and Defolo, Craig (1986). "Evaluation of Active Faulting and Associated Hazards". Active Tectonics: Impact on Society. The National Academies Press. pp. 45–48. ISBN   978-0-309-07395-0.
    • Organizations that authored this book: Geophysics Study Committee, Geophysics Research Forum, National Research Council
  3. 1 2 "... relationship between Quaternary faults and earthquakes". Quaternary Faults. USGS Earthquake Hazards Program. October 27, 2009. Archived from the original (online web page) on November 27, 2011. Retrieved 2011-09-17.
  4. "... so many earthquakes and Quaternary faults in the Western U.S." Quaternary Faults. USGS Earthquake Hazards Program. October 27, 2009. Archived from the original (online web page) on November 27, 2011. Retrieved 2011-09-17.