Abstract

Movements along the Pitaycachi fault since the Miocene juxtaposed different alluvial units and created 2- to 45-m-high fault scarps downslope from a pedimented mountain front prior to 1887. In 1887, a major earthquake formed a 75-km-long, 12- to 4-m-high scarp along the trace of prehistoric surface ruptures.

Diverse evidence from many study sites indicates that about 200,000 yr elapsed between the prior (youngest Pleistocene) event and the 1887 surface rupture. Cumulative displacements of Pliocene(?) to mid-Pleistocene alluvial fans and stream terraces decrease with decreasing age. The trace of the prior rupture was largely buried by sheets of late Pleistocene and Holocene piedmont alluvium. Late Pleistocene soils are offset about the same amount as the height of the 1887 scarp. Valleys that are as much as 40 m deep and 0.5 to 0.9 km wide have been eroded since the prior event; they contain multiple late Pleistocene and Holocene stream terraces that were not faulted until 1887. Pre-1887 alluvial fault scarps were degraded to 2° to 9° slopes before the 1887 event, even in resistant materials such as clay-rich soil horizons with unweathered rhyolite cobbles and calcrete. Scarp height-maximum slope regressions and diffusion-equation analyses for reconstructed pre-1887 scarp profiles indicate that the prior event occurred more than 100,000 yr ago. Acceleration of scarp degradation rates during the Holocene, and/or relatively resistant materials exposed in the scarps, would increase the age estimates to 200,000 yr or more.

Very long recurrence intervals are the characteristic style of movement on the Pitaycachi fault. At one site, six ages of diverse valley fills were inset into pedimented granodiorite upslope from the fault between the prior and 1887 events. Only 3 m of relief remained before the 1887 rupture increased the scarp height from 3 to 6 m. Some hillslopes have triangular talus facets of carbonatecemented colluvium that resulted from infrequent fault movements and intervening periods of erosion. Smooth hillsides of resistant volcanic rocks between the facets show that virtually all of the prior surface-rupture event scarps had been removed by prolonged slope degradation.

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