Abstract

Several major earthquakes have affected El Salvador, Central America, during the Past 100 yr as a consequence of oblique subduction of the Cocos plate under the Caribbean plate, which is partitioned between trench-orthogonal compression and strike-slip deformation parallel to the volcanic arc. Focal mechanisms and the distribution of the most destructive earthquakes, together with geomorphologic evidence, suggest that this transcurrent component of motion may be accommodated by a major strike-slip fault (El Salvador fault zone). We present field geological, structural, and geomorphological data collected in central El Salvador that allow the constraint of the kinematics and the Quaternary activity of this major seismogenic strike-slip fault system. Data suggest that the El Salvador fault zone consists of at least two main ∼E-W fault segments (San Vicente and Berlin segments), with associated secondary synthetic (WNW-ESE) and antithetic (NNW-SSE) Riedel shears and NW-SE tensional structures. The two main fault segments overlap in a dextral en echelon style with the formation of an intervening pull-apart basin. Our original geological and geomorphologic data suggest a late Pleistocene–Holocene slip rate of ∼11 mm/yr along the Berlin segment, in contrast with low historical seismicity. The kinematics and rates of deformation suggested by our new data are consistent with models involving slip partitioning during oblique subduction, and support the notion that a trench-parallel component of motion between the Caribbean and Cocos plates is concentrated along E-W dextral strike-slip faults parallel to the volcanic arc.

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