Abstract

The San Andreas fault is the longest fault in California and one of the longest strike-slip faults anywhere in the world, yet we know little about many aspects of its behavior before, during, and after large earthquakes. We conducted a study to locate and to estimate magnitudes for the largest foreshocks and aftershocks of the 1857 M 7.9 Fort Tejon earthquake on the central and southern segments of the fault. We began by searching archived first-hand accounts from 1857 through 1862, by grouping felt reports temporally, and by assigning modified Mercalli intensities to each site. We then used a modified form of the grid-search algorithm of Bakun and Wentworth, derived from empirical analysis of modern earthquakes, to find the location and magnitude most consistent with the assigned intensities for each of the largest events. The result confirms a conclusion of Sieh that at least two foreshocks (“dawn” and “sunrise”) located on or near the Parkfield segment of the San Andreas fault preceded the mainshock. We estimate their magnitudes to be M ≈ 6.1 and M ≈ 5.6, respectively. The aftershock rate was below average but within one standard deviation of the number of aftershocks expected based on statistics of modern southern California mainshock-aftershock sequences. The aftershocks included two significant events during the first eight days of the sequence, with magnitudes M ≈ 6.25 and M ≈ 6.7, near the southern half of the rupture; later aftershocks included a M ≈ 6 event near San Bernardino in December 1858 and a M ≈ 6.3 event near the Parkfield segment in April 1860. From earthquake logs at Fort Tejon, we conclude that the aftershock sequence lasted a minimum of 3.75 years.

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