Width of surface rupture zone for thrust earthquakes: implications for earthquake fault zoning

Paolo Boncio, Francesca Liberi, Martina Caldarella and Fiia-Charlotta Nurminen
Source: Nat. Hazards Earth Syst. Sci., 18, 241–256
Year: 2018

The criteria for zoning the surface fault rupture hazard (SFRH) along thrust faults are defined by analysing the characteristics of the areas of coseismic surface faulting in thrust earthquakes. Normal and strike–slip faults have been deeply studied by other authors concerning the SFRH, while thrust faults have not been studied with comparable attention. Surface faulting data were compiled for 11 well-studied historic thrust earthquakes occurred globally (5.4 <M < 7.9). Several different types of coseismic fault scarps characterize the analysed earthquakes, depending on the topography, fault geometry and near-surface materials (simple and hanging wall collapse scarps, pressure ridges, fold scarps and thrust or pressure ridges with bending-moment or flexural slip fault ruptures due to large-scale folding). For all the earthquakes, the distance of distributed ruptures from the principal fault rupture (r) and the width of the rupture zone (WRZ) were compiled directly from the literature or measured systematically in GIS-georeferenced published maps. Overall, surface ruptures can occur up to large distances from the main fault (2150m on the footwall and 3100m on the hanging wall). Most of the ruptures occur on the hanging wall, preferentially in the vicinity of the principal fault trace (>50% at distances <250 m). The widest WRZ are recorded where sympathetic slip (Sy) on distant faults occurs, and/or where bending-moment (B-M) or flexural-slip (F-S) fault ruptures, associated with large-scale folds (hundreds of metres to kilometres in wavelength), are present. A positive relation between the earthquake magnitude and the total WRZ is evident, while a clear correlation between the vertical displacement on the principal fault and the total WRZ is not found. The distribution of surface ruptures is fitted with probability density functions, in order to define a criterion to remove outliers (e.g. 90% probability of the cumulative distribution function) and define the zone where the likelihood of having surface ruptures is the highest. This might help in sizing the zones of SFRH during seismic microzonation (SM) mapping. In order to shape zones of SFRH, a very detailed earthquake geologic study of the fault is necessary (the highest level of SM, i.e. Level 3 SM according to Italian guidelines). In the absence of such a very detailed study (basic SM, i.e. Level 1 SM of Italian guidelines) a width of 840m (90% probability from “simple thrust” database of distributed ruptures, excluding B-M, F-S and Sy fault ruptures) is suggested to be sufficiently precautionary. For more detailed SM, where the fault is carefully mapped, one must consider that the highest SFRH is concentrated in a narrow zone, 60m in width, that should be considered as a fault avoidance zone (more than one-third of the distributed ruptures are expected to occur within this zone). The fault rupture hazard zones should be asymmetric compared to the trace of the principal fault. The average footwall to hanging wall ratio (FW V HW) is close to 1 V 2 in all analysed cases. These criteria are applicable to “simple thrust” faults, without considering possible B-M or F-S fault ruptures due to large-scale folding, and without considering sympathetic slip on distant faults. Areas potentially susceptible to B-M or F-S fault ruptures should have their own zones of fault rupture hazard that can be defined by detailed knowledge of the structural setting of the area (shape, wavelength, tightness and lithology of the thrust-related large-scale folds) and by geomorphic evidence of past secondary faulting. Distant active faults, potentially susceptible to sympathetic triggering, should be zoned as separate principal faults. The entire database of distributed ruptures (including BM, F-S and Sy fault ruptures) can be useful in poorly known areas, in order to assess the extent of the area within which potential sources of fault displacement hazard can be present. The results from this study and the database made available in the Supplement can be used for improving the attenuation relationships for distributed faulting, with possible applications in probabilistic studies of fault displacement hazard.