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Abstract

At the surface, strike-slip fault stepovers, including abrupt fault bends, are typically regions of complex, often disconnected faults. This complexity has traditionally led geologists studying the hazard of active faults to consider such stepovers as important fault segment boundaries, and to give lower weight to earthquake scenarios that involve rupture through the stepover zone. However, recent geological and geophysical studies of several stepover zones along the San Andreas fault system in California have revealed that the complex nature of the fault zone at the surface masks a much simpler and direct connection at depths associated with large earthquakes (greater than 5 km). In turn, the simplicity of the connection suggests that a stepover zone would provide less of an impediment to through-going rupture in a large earthquake, so that the role of stepovers as segment boundaries has probably been overemphasized. However, counter-examples of fault complexity at depth associated with surface stepovers are known, so the role of stepovers in fault rupture behaviour must be carefully established in each case.

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