Synthesis of geodetic and seismological results for the 1979 Imperial Valley earthquake is approached using three-dimensional finite element modeling techniques. The displacements and stresses are calculated elastically throughout the modeled region. The vertical elastic structure in the model is derived from compressional and shear wave velocities as used in the seismic data analysis (Fuis et al., 1981) combined with a sediment density profile. Two strategies for applying initial conditions are followed in this modeling. In the first strategy, a sample seismological estimate for fault plane slip is used to predict the resultant surface motions. We show that the geodetic strain results over distances of tens of kilometer from the fault (Snay et al., 1982) are basically consistent with the model seismic fault displacements. Geodetic results from within a few kilometers of the fault trace (Mason et al., 1981) seem to require more slip at shallow depths than appears at seismic time scales. This is consistent with the occurrence of aftercreep at shallow depths in less well-consolidated material, which would bring surface displacements into line with maximum slip at depth, but not greatly affect the net moment.

In the second strategy, we consider stresses on the fault plane, rather than displacements, as model variables. To constrain this part of our numerical modeling, we assume that the fault driving stress is governed by ambient tectonic stress and an opposing Coulomb friction derived from experiment. The coseismic stress drop from point to point on the failed fault is given by the difference between the tectonic shear stress and the frictional stress. After arriving at such a uniform model which adequately represents the Snay et al. results, we further modify a small region near the seismic “asperity” to make the fault plane motions qualitatively and quantitatively resemble the model of coseismic motions used in the first strategy. The observed offset on the fault trace (Sharp et al., 1982) is approximated in this final stress-driven model by removing the driving stress on the southern third of the fault.

Thus, the principal features of the coseismic slip pattern are explained by a stress-driven fault model in which: (a) a spatially unresolved asperity is found equivalent to a stress drop of 18 MPa averaged over an area of 15 km2, and (b) driving stress is essentially absent on the fault segment overlapping the 1940 earthquake rupture zone.

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