Kinematics of shallow backthrusts in the Seattle fault zone, Washington State

By: , and 



Near-surface thrust fault splays and antithetic backthrusts at the tips of major thrust fault systems can distribute slip across multiple shallow fault strands, complicating earthquake hazard analyses based on studies of surface faulting. The shallow expression of the fault strands forming the Seattle fault zone of Washington State shows the structural relationships and interactions between such fault strands. Paleoseismic studies document an ∼7000 yr history of earthquakes on multiple faults within the Seattle fault zone, with some backthrusts inferred to rupture in small (M ∼5.5–6.0) earthquakes at times other than during earthquakes on the main thrust faults. We interpret seismic-reflection profiles to show three main thrust faults, one of which is a blind thrust fault directly beneath downtown Seattle, and four small backthrusts within the Seattle fault zone. We then model fault slip, constrained by shallow deformation, to show that the Seattle fault forms a fault propagation fold rather than the alternatively proposed roof thrust system. Fault slip modeling shows that back-thrust ruptures driven by moderate (M ∼6.5–6.7) earthquakes on the main thrust faults are consistent with the paleoseismic data. The results indicate that paleoseismic data from the back-thrust ruptures reveal the times of moderate earthquakes on the main fault system, rather than indicating smaller (M ∼5.5–6.0) earthquakes involving only the backthrusts. Estimates of cumulative shortening during known Seattle fault zone earthquakes support the inference that the Seattle fault has been the major seismic hazard in the northern Cascadia forearc in the late Holocene.

Study Area

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Kinematics of shallow backthrusts in the Seattle fault zone, Washington State
Series title Geosphere
DOI 10.1130/GES01179.1
Volume 11
Issue 6
Year Published 2015
Language English
Publisher Geological Society of America
Contributing office(s) Geologic Hazards Science Center
Description 27 p.
First page 1948
Last page 1974
Country United States
State Washington
City Seattle
Other Geospatial Seattle Fault
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