Integrated geomorphic and geodynamic modeling of a potential blind thrust in the San Francisco Bay area, California

Courtney B. Johnson, Kevin P. Furlong, Eric Kirby

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Geometries and slip budgets of the faults in the San Francisco Bay area imply previously unrecognized fault linkages, including examples of blind thrust structures that appear to connect segments of strike-slip faults and accommodate along-strike variations in slip rate along these structures. Displacement along linking faults may be associated with the development of topography and also may serve as earthquake sources. In Marin County, California, systematic spatial patterns in landscape topography and geomorphic indices suggest that the region north of Mt. Tamalpais is experiencing differential rock uplift. We suggest that a blind thrust underlies the elevated area, creating the observed topography and possibly resolving a slip discrepancy between the Hayward and San Andreas Fault in this region. We have developed and implemented an integrative approach that combines observations from tectonic deformation and geomorphic properties to identify a potential blind thrust beneath Marin County. Elastic displacement modeling has been tested for compatibility with the blind thrust hypothesis and to assess the sensitivity of observables to fault geometry and orientation; from this, a set of plausible blind thrust structures are defined. We use a range of empirical relationships between channel steepness index and erosion rate to estimate spatial variations in erosion rate along Bolinas Ridge. By coupling these erosion estimates with elastic displacement fault modeling, we can use the resulting topographic envelopes to constrain the rate and duration of deformation. These constraints, along with spatial bounds on the possible fault models, are used to calculate potential seismic moment and moment magnitude. With an assumed recurrence interval of ~ 100 years, such blind thrusts can produce a Mw ~ 6.3 earthquake, while a longer recurrence time (~ 1000 years) results in a maximum Mw ~ 7.0 earthquake. Although such events are not likely to be catastrophic, they are large enough to cause significant strong ground motions in the San Francisco Bay area.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)319-328
Number of pages10
Issue number3-4
StatePublished - Jun 15 2009

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geophysics
  • Earth-Surface Processes


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