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Mesoscale fault slip data were gathered in rocks ranging in age between Cretaceous and Quaternary to evaluate the evolution of regional stress tensor orientations in the San Luis Obispo-Santa Maria area of coastal central California. We applied the numerical inversion method of Carey and Brunier (1974) for fault slip data to obtain a mean direction of the maximum principal stress (σ1) trending 202°, 5° for the late Pliocene-Quaternary. Similar orientations were determined from data of older units. In many late Pliocene-Quaternary sediments, conjugate sets of reverse faults are present, and based on the Anderson (1951) model of faulting, yield the same northeast-southwest-oriented axis of maximum compression. The predominant joint sets strike 030° and 110°, almost parallel and othogonal to large-scale fold axes of the area.

The northeast σ1 agrees with the present regional stress tensor determined from focal mechanisms, and indicates that since the late Pliocene the deformation of this area was by northeast-oriented crustal shortening. The slip indicators related to this tensor appear to overprint and often mask most of the indicators related to earlier stress regimes.

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