Climatic influence on the expression of strike-slip faulting

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Earthquakes on strike-slip faults are preserved in the geomorphic record by offset landforms that span a range of displacements, from small offsets created in the most recent earthquake (MRE) to large offsets that record cumulative slip from multiple prior events. An exponential decay in the number of large cumulative offsets has been observed on many faults, and a leading hypothesis is that climate controls the rate of decay. We present offset measurements compiled from 31 studies of strike-slip faults with evidence of multiple paleoearthquakes and corresponding climatic and tectonic information to test this hypothesis. Both the global compilation and numerical landscape evolution modeling reveal that the decay rate in large offsets is negatively correlated with mean annual precipitation. Faults in dry regions with high drainage density more commonly preserve small MRE offsets, and faults in wet regions with lower drainage density more commonly preserve a mix of small MRE and large cumulative offsets. Geomorphology of faults in different climates supports this result and illustrates precipitation’s effect on the development and preservation of offset channels. Our findings imply that current and past climate affect how displacement on strike-slip faults is recorded and interpreted to inform earthquake history.




Reitman, N. G., Klinger, Y., Briggs, R. W., & Gold, R. D. (2023). Climatic influence on the expression of strike-slip faulting. Geology, 51(1), 18–22.

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