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Open-File Report 00-002

Height Changes in the Epicentral Region Preceding the January 17, 1994 Northridge Earthquake

By Robert O. Castle, Robert F. Packard, and Laura B. Dinitz

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Analysis of the results of repeated levelings through the epicentral region of the Mw 6.7, 1994 Northridge earthquake has disclosed the occurrence of differential uplift in this area that preceded the earthquake. Although the distribution of the relevant vertical-control data is somewhat sparse, in both space and time, those data that we have recovered indicate that this uplift exceeded 0.10 m and peaked 20-25 km west of the 1994 epicenter. While our data also indicate that this deformational event must have occurred during the period 1978-1989, evidence based on the character and magnitude of misclosures developed from 1987 and 1989 surveys argue that the deformation occurred largely during the period 1987-1989. The preseismic vertical-displacement field that preceded the Northridge earthquake is similar in form and, less certainly, magnitude to that which preceded the Mw 6.7, 1971 San Fernando earthquake; other possible, but less significant southern California analogues include the deformational events that preceded the Mw 5.3, 1973 Point Mugu and Mw 5.9, 1987 Whittier Narrows earthquakes. The small but growing number of recognized aseismic deformational episodes that preceded small to moderate magnitude earthquakes in southern California suggests that the deployment of the dense array of continuously recording GPS receivers planned for southern California can be expected to detect and more accurately describe such events than was heretofore possible. Moreover, if the relation between the duration of these deformational anomalies and the magnitudes of any ensuing earthquakes can be much more clearly established, the near perfect temporal control on position afforded by GPS suggests that we may be on the threshold of a realistic earthquake warning system.

First posted April 13, 2000

For additional information, contact:
Menlo Park, CA Office - Earthquake Science Center
U.S. Geological Survey
345 Middlefield Road MS 977
Menlo Park, California 94025

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Suggested citation:

Castle, Robert O., Packard, Robert F., and Dinitz, Laura B., 2000, Height Changes in the Epicentral Region Preceding the January 17, 1994 Northridge Earthquake: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 00-002, 16 pp,

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