Abstract

Tectonic loading and Coulomb stress transfer are modeled along the right-lateral Fairweather–Queen Charlotte transform fault system using a three-dimensional boundary element program. The loading model includes slip below 12 km along the transform as well as motion of the Pacific plate, and it is consistent with most available Global Positioning System (gps) displacement rate data. Coulomb stress transfer is shown to have been a weak contributing factor in the failure of the southeastern (Sitka) segment of the Fairweather fault in 1972, hastening the occurrence of the earthquake by only about 8 months. Failure of the Sitka segment was enhanced by a combination of cumulative loading from below (95%) by slip of about 5 cm/yr since 1848, by stress transfer (about 1%) from major earthquakes on straddling segments of the Queen Charlotte fault (M 8.1 in 1949) and the Fairweather fault (M 7.8 in 1958), and by viscoelastic relaxation (about 4%) following the great 1964 Alaska earthquake, modeled by Pollitz et al. (1998). Cumulative stress increases in excess of 7 MPa at a depth of 8 km are projected prior to the M 7.6 earthquake. Coulomb stress transferred by the rupture of the great M 9.2 Alaska earthquake in 1964 (Bufe, 2004a) also hastened the occurrence of the 1972 event, but only by a month or two. Continued tectonic loading over the last half century and stress transfer from the M 7.6 Sitka event has resulted in restressing of the adjacent segments by about 3 MPa at 8 km depth. The occurrence of a M 6.8 earthquake on the northwestern part of the Queen Charlotte fault on 28 June 2004, the largest since 1949, also suggests increased stress. The Cape St. James segment of the fault immediately southeast of the 1949 Queen Charlotte rupture has accumulated about 6 MPa at 8 km through loading since 1900 and stress transfer in 1949. A continued rise in earthquake hazard is indicated for the Alaska panhandle and Queen Charlotte Islands region in the decades ahead as the potential for damaging earthquakes increases.

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