The 1932 Cedar Mountain earthquake (Ms 7.2) was one of the largest historical events in the Walker Lane region of western Nevada, and it produced a complicated strike-slip rupture pattern on multiple Quaternary faults distributed through three valleys. Primary, right-lateral surface ruptures occurred on north-striking faults in Monte Cristo Valley; small-scale lateral and normal offsets occurred in Stewart Valley; and secondary, normal faulting occurred on north-northeast–striking faults in the Gabbs Valley epicentral region. A reexamination of the surface ruptures provides new displacement and fault-zone data: maximum cumulative offset is estimated to be 2.7 m, and newly recognized faults extend the maximum width and end-to-end length of the rupture zone to 17 and 75 km, respectively.
A detailed Quaternary allostratigraphic chronology based on regional alluvial-geomorphic relationships, tephrochronology, and radiocarbon dating provides a framework for interpreting the paleoseismic history of the fault zone. A late Wisconsinan alluvial-fan and piedmont unit containing a 32–36 ka tephra layer is a key stratigraphic datum for paleoseismic measurements.
Exploratory trenching and radiocarbon dating of tectonic stratigraphy provide the first estimates for timing of late Quaternary faulting along the Cedar Mountain fault zone. Three trenches display evidence for six faulting events, including that in 1932, during the past 32–36 ka. Radiocarbon dating of organic soils interstratified with tectonically ponded silts establishes best-fit ages of the pre-1932 events at 4, 5, 12, 15, and 18 ka, each with ±2 ka uncertainties. On the basis of an estimated cumulative net slip of 6–12 m for the six faulting events, minimum and maximum late Quaternary slip rates are 0.2 and 0.7 mm/yr, respectively, and the preferred rate is 0.4–0.5 mm/yr. The average recurrence (interseismic) interval is 3600 yr. The relatively uniform thickness of the ponded deposits suggests that similar-size, characteristic rupture events may characterize late Quaternary slip on the zone. A comparison of event timing with the average late Quaternary recurrence interval indicates that slip has been largely regular (periodic) rather than temporally clustered.
To account for the spatial separation of the primary surface faulting in Monte Cristo Valley from the epicenter and for a factor-of-two-to-three disparity between the instrumentally and geologically determined seismic moments associated with the earthquake, we hypothesize two alternative tectonic models containing undetected subevents. Either model would adequately account for the observed faulting on the basis of wrench-fault kinematics that may be associated with the Walker Lane.
The 1932 Cedar Mountain earthquake is considered an important modern analogue for seismotectonic modeling and estimating seismic hazard in the Walker Lane region. In contrast to most other historical events in the Basin and Range province, the 1932 event did not occur along a major range-bounding fault, and no single, throughgoing basement structure can account for the observed rupture pattern. The 1932 faulting supports the concept that major earthquakes in the Basin and Range province can exhibit complicated distributive rupture patterns and that slip rate may not be a reliable criterion for modeling seismic hazard.