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We use three-dimensional elastic models to help guide the kinematic interpretation of crustal deformation associated with strike-slip faults. Deformation of the brittle upper crust in the vicinity of strike-slip fault systems is modeled with the assumption that upper crustal deformation is driven by the relative plate motion in the upper mantle. The driving motion is represented by displacement that is specified on the bottom of a 15-km-thick elastic upper crust everywhere except in a zone of finite width in the vicinity of the faults, which we term the "shear zone." Stress-free basal boundary conditions are specified within the shear zone. The basal driving displacement is either pure strike slip or strike slip with a small oblique component, and the geometry of the fault system includes a single fault, several parallel faults, and overlapping en echelon faults. We examine the variations in deformation due to changes in the width of the shear zone and due to changes in the shear strength of the faults. In models with weak faults the width of the shear zone has a considerable effect on the surficial extent and amplitude of the vertical and horizontal deformation and on the amount of rotation around horizontal and vertical axes. Strong fault models have more localized deformation at the tip of the faults, and the deformation is partly distributed outside the fault zone. The dimensions of large basins along strike-slip faults, such as the Rukwa and Dead Sea basins, and the absence of uplift around pull-apart basins fit models with weak faults better than models with strong faults. Our models also suggest that the length-to-width ratio of pull-apart basins depends on the width of the shear zone and the shear strength of the faults and is not constant as previously suggested. We show that pure strike-slip motion can produce tectonic features, such as elongate half grabens along a single fault, rotated blocks at the ends of parallel faults, or extension perpendicular to overlapping en echelon faults, which can be misinterpreted to indicate a regional component of extension. Zones of subsidence or uplift can become wider than expected for transform plate boundaries when a minor component of oblique motion is added to a system of parallel strike-slip faults.
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Three-dimensional models of deformation near strike-slip faults