A least-squares point-by-point inversion of strong ground motion and teleseismic body waves is used to infer the fault rupture history of the 1979 Imperial Valley, California, earthquake. The Imperial fault is represented by a plane embedded in a half-space where the elastic properties vary with depth. The inversion yields both the spatial and temporal variations in dislocation on the fault plane for both right-lateral strike-slip and normal dip-slip components of motion. Inversions are run for different fault dips and for both constant and variable rupture velocity models. Effects of different data sets are also investigated. Inversions are compared which use the strong ground motions alone, the teleseismic body waves alone, and simultaneously the strong ground motion and teleseismic records. The inversions are stabilized by adding both smoothing and positivity constraints.

The moment is estimated to be 5.0 × 1025 dyne-cm and the fault dip 90° ± 5°. Dislocation in the hypocentral region south of the United States-Mexican border is relatively small and almost dies out near the border. Dislocation then increases sharply north of the border to a maximum of about 2 m under Interstate 8. Dipslip motion is minor compared to strike-slip motion and is concentrated in the sediments. The best-fitting constant rupture velocity is 80 per cent of the local shear-wave velocity. However, there is a suggestion that the rupture front accelerated from the hypocenter northward. The 1979 Imperial Valley earthquake can be characterized as a magnitude 5 earthquake at the hypocenter which then grew into or triggered a magnitude 6 earthquake north of the border.

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