Abstract

The Brawley fault zone (bfz) and the Brawley Seismic Zone constitute the principal transfer zone accommodating strain between the San Andreas and Imperial faults in southernmost California. The bfz ruptured along with the Imperial fault in the 1940 Mw 6.9 and the 1979 Mw 6.4 earthquakes, although in each case only minor slip apparently occurred on the bfz; several other episodes of slip and creep have been documented on the bfz historically. Until this study, it has been unclear whether the past few decades reflect average behavior of the fault. Two trenches were opened and a series of auger holes were bored across three strands of the bfz at Harris Road to compare the amount of slip observed historically with the displacements observed in the paleoseismic record. Evidence is presented, across the westernmost strand of the bfz and across the entire bfz at Harris Road, to show that both the average vertical slip rate observed in modern times (since 1970) and the vertical creep rate (excluding coseismic slip) observed during the 1970s are significantly higher than the long-term average. Across the westernmost strand, the long- term vertical rate is 1.2 (+1.5/−0.5) mm/yr, and the average rate since about a.d. 1710 is determined to be no greater than 2.0 mm/yr; in contrast, the average vertical rate between 1970 and 2004 across that strand was at least 4.3 mm/yr, and the 1970s vertical aseismic creep rate was 10 mm/yr. Likewise, across the entire bfz, the long- term vertical rate is 2.8 (+4.1/−1.4) mm/yr, whereas the rate between 1970 and 2004 was at least 7.2 mm/yr, and the 1970s aseismic creep rate was 10 mm/yr. The long-term strike-slip rate cannot be determined across any strands of the bfz but may be significant. In contrast to the commonly accepted higher sedimentation rates inferred for the entire Imperial Valley, we find that the average sedimentation rate on the downthrown side of the bfz adjacent to Mesquite Basin, in the millennium preceding the onset of agricultural influences, was at most 3.5 mm/yr. Finally, a creep event occurred on the bfz during our study in 2002 and is documented herein.

Online material: Appendices 1 and 2, trench logs, and color versions of Figures 7, 8, and 10.

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