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Evaluation of Potential Surface Faulting and Other Tectonic Deformation

By M.G. Bonilla1

U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 82-732
Version 1.0


Prepared with partial support from
U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission

JAMES G. WATT, Secretary

Dallas L. Peck, Director

This report is preliminary and has not been reviewed for conformity with U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) editorial standards or with the North American Stratigraphic Code. Any use of trade, firm, or product names is for descriptive purposes only and does not imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.

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This report summarizes and provides references to much of what is known about tectonic deformation associated with earthquakes and describes current approaches and procedures for evaluating the hazards of surface faulting and other earthquake-related tectonic deformation. Emphasis is placed on surface faulting because it is the more significant hazard for most construction.

The deformation discussed here is the permanent deformation of the ground arising from the sudden displacement of buried rock masses that generates an earthquake. Such deformation includes both faulting that ruptures the surface of the earth and permanent distributed deformation of the rocks surrounding the earthquake-generating fault.

Surface faulting also results from slow movement of large sedimentary deposits (for example, the "growth faults" of the Gulf Coast), from withdrawal of subsurface fluids, or from movement of salt, gypsum, or anhydrite deposits. Such faulting can damage structures, but, because it is aseismic or produces only very small earthquakes, it is not treated in this report, nor is faulting associated with volcanic activity.

Permanent deformation of the ground also results from failure phenomena within surficial sediments in response to earthquake shaking. Examples include landslides, earth flows, lateral spreads and settlements. Such distortions are regarded as secondary effects because they are induced by earthquake shaking, and are not discussed here.

Note on This Version 1.1

In this revised report, the author makes references to the better equations published later in Bonilla, M.G., Mark, R.K., and Lienkaemper, J.J., 1984, Statistical relations among earthquake magnitude, surface rupture length, and surface fault displacement: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 84-256, 46 p.

Diagram showing classification of fault types
Damage to brick-lined tunnel by about 2 m of right slip on the San Andreas fault, 1906. The tunnel was repaired and restored to use. Photo courtesy of San Francisco Water Department


Doc Bonilla scanned the original typewriter pages and illustrations, did OCR on the text, and proofread the final work. Mike Diggles edited the scans, did the page layout, produced a Portable Document Format (PDF) file, and wrote the html front-end.

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Evaluation of Potential Surface Faulting and Other Tectonic Deformation

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Version history

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Date created: October 26, 2000
Maintained by: Michael Diggles
Last modified: May 27, 2005