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USGS Open-File Report 2014-1045 and CGS Special Report 233

Scenario Earthquake Hazards for the Long Valley Caldera-Mono Lake Area, East-Central California (ver. 2.0, January 2018)

By Rui Chen, David M. Branum, Chris J. Wills, and David P. Hill

Thumbnail of and link to report PDF (12.5 MB)Abstract

As part of the U.S. Geological Survey’s (USGS) multi-hazards project in the Long Valley Caldera-Mono Lake area, the California Geological Survey (CGS) developed several earthquake scenarios and evaluated potential seismic hazards, including ground shaking, surface fault rupture, liquefaction, and landslide hazards associated with these earthquake scenarios. The results of these analyses can be useful in estimating the extent of potential damage and economic losses because of potential earthquakes and also for preparing emergency response plans.

The Long Valley Caldera-Mono Lake area has numerous active faults. Five of these faults or fault zones are considered capable of producing magnitude ≥6.7 earthquakes according to the Uniform California Earthquake Rupture Forecast, Version 2 (UCERF 2) developed by the 2007 Working Group on California Earthquake Probabilities (WGCEP) and the USGS National Seismic Hazard Mapping Program. These five faults are the Fish Slough, Hartley Springs, Hilton Creek, Mono Lake, and Round Valley Faults. CGS developed earthquake scenarios for these five faults in the study area and for the White Mountains Fault Zone to the east of the study area.

In this report, an earthquake scenario is intended to depict the potential consequences of significant earthquakes. A scenario earthquake is not necessarily the largest or most damaging earthquake possible on a recognized fault. Rather it is both large enough and likely enough that emergency planners should consider it in regional emergency response plans. In particular, the ground motion predicted for a given scenario earthquake does not represent a full probabilistic hazard assessment, and thus it does not provide the basis for hazard zoning and earthquake-resistant building design.

Earthquake scenarios presented here are based on fault geometry and activity data developed by the WGCEP, and are consistent with the 2008 Update of the United States National Seismic Hazard Maps (NSHM). Alternatives to the NSHM scenario were developed for the Hilton Creek and Hartley Springs Faults to account for different opinions in how far these two faults extend into Long Valley Caldera. For each scenario, ground motions were calculated using the current standard practice: the deterministic seismic hazard analysis program developed by Art Frankel of USGS and three Next Generation Ground Motion Attenuation (NGA) models. Ground motion calculations incorporated the potential amplification of seismic shaking by near-surface soils defined by a map of the average shear wave velocity in the uppermost 30 m (VS30) developed by CGS.

In addition to ground shaking and shaking-related ground failure such as liquefaction and earthquake induced landslides, earthquakes cause surface rupture displacement, which can lead to severe damage of buildings and lifelines. For each earthquake scenario, potential surface fault displacements are estimated using deterministic and probabilistic approaches. Liquefaction occurs when saturated sediments lose their strength because of ground shaking. Zones of potential liquefaction are mapped by incorporating areas where loose sandy sediments, shallow groundwater, and strong earthquake shaking coincide in the earthquake scenario. The process for defining zones of potential landslide and rockfall incorporates rock strength, surface slope, and existing landslides, with ground motions caused by the scenario earthquake.

Each scenario is illustrated with maps of seismic shaking potential and fault displacement, liquefaction, and landslide potential. Seismic shaking is depicted by the distribution of shaking intensity, peak ground acceleration, and 1.0-second spectral acceleration. One-second spectral acceleration correlates well with structural damage to surface facilities. Acceleration greater than 0.2 g is often associated with strong ground shaking and may cause moderate to heavy damage. The extent of strong shaking is influenced by subsurface fault dip and near surface materials. Strong shaking is more widespread in the hanging wall regions of a normal fault. Larger ground motions also occur where young alluvial sediments amplify the shaking. Both of these effects can lead to strong shaking that extends farther from the fault on the valley side than on the hill side.

The effect of fault rupture displacements may be localized along the surface trace of the mapped earthquake fault if fault geometry is simple and the fault traces are accurately located. However, surface displacement hazards can spread over a few hundred meters to a few kilometers if the earthquake fault has numerous splays or branches, such as the Hilton Creek Fault. Faulting displacements are estimated to be about 1 meter along normal faults in the study area and close to 2 meters along the White Mountains Fault Zone.

All scenarios show the possibility of widespread ground failure. Liquefaction damage would likely occur in the areas of higher ground shaking near the faults where there are sandy/silty sediments and the depth to groundwater is 6.1 meters (20 feet) or less. Generally, this means damage is most common near lakes and streams in the areas of strongest shaking. Landslide potential exists throughout the study region. All steep slopes (>30 degrees) present a potential hazard at any level of shaking. Lesser slopes may have landslides within the areas of the higher ground shaking. The landslide hazard zones also are likely sources for snow avalanches during winter months and for large boulders that can be shaken loose and roll hundreds of feet down hill, which happened during the 1980 Mammoth Lakes earthquakes.

Whereas methodologies used in estimating ground shaking, liquefaction, and landslides are well developed and have been applied in published hazard maps; methodologies used in estimating surface fault displacement are still being developed. Therefore, this report provides a more in-depth and detailed discussion of methodologies used for deterministic and probabilistic fault displacement hazard analyses for this project.

First posted June 30, 2014

Revised January 2018

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

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Suggested citation:

Chen, R., Branum, D.M., Wills, C.J., and Hill, D.P., 2018, Scenario earthquake hazards for the Long Valley Caldera-Mono Lake area, east-central California (ver. 2.0, January 2018): U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2014–1045, and California Geological Survey Special Report 233, 84 p.,

ISSN 2331-1258 (online)




Scenario Earthquake Hazard Estimation Methods

Scenario Earthquake Hazard Results

Discussion and Conclusions


References Cited

Appendix A.  Distributed Fault Displacement and Probabilistic Fault Displacement Hazard Analyses
Methodology and Results

Appendix B.  Results for Hilton Creek M6.8 Scenario (2008 NSHM scenario)

Appendix C.  Results for Hilton Creek M6.6 Scenario (Alternative 1)

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