Seismic images and fault relations of the Santa Monica thrust fault, West Los Angeles, California

Open-File Report 2001-111

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In May 1997, the US Geological Survey (USGS) and the University of Southern California (USC) acquired high-resolution seismic reflection and refraction images on the grounds of the Wadsworth Veterans Administration Hospital (WVAH) in the city of Los Angeles (Fig. 1a,b). The objective of the seismic survey was to better understand the near-surface geometry and faulting characteristics of the Santa Monica fault zone. In this report, we present seismic images, an interpretation of those images, and a comparison of our results with results from studies by Dolan and Pratt (1997), Pratt et al. (1998) and Gibbs et al. (2000).

The Santa Monica fault is one of the several northeast-southwest-trending, north-dipping, reverse faults that extend through the Los Angeles metropolitan area (Fig. 1a). Through much of area, the Santa Monica fault trends subparallel to the Hollywood fault, but the two faults apparently join into a single fault zone to the southwest and to the northeast (Dolan et al., 1995). The Santa Monica and Hollywood faults may be part of a larger fault system that extends from the Pacific Ocean to the Transverse Ranges. Crook et al. (1983) refer to this fault system as the Malibu Coast-Santa Monica-Raymond-Cucamonga fault system. They suggest that these faults have not formed a contiguous zone since the Pleistocene and conclude that each of the faults should be treated as a separate fault with respect to seismic hazards. However, Dolan et al. (1995) suggest that the Hollywood and Santa Monica faults are capable of generating Mw 6.8 and Mw 7.0 earthquakes, respectively. Thus, regardless of whether the overall fault system is connected and capable of rupturing in one event, individually, each of the faults present a sizable earthquake hazard to the Los Angeles metropolitan area. If, however, these faults are connected, and they were to rupture along a continuous fault rupture, the resulting hazard would be even greater.

Although the Santa Monica fault represents a hazard to millions of people, its lateral extent and rupture history are not well known, due largely to limited knowledge of the fault location, geometry, and relationship to other faults. The Santa Monica fault has been obscured at the surface by alluvium and urbanization. For example, Dolan et al. (1995) could find only one 200-m-long stretch of the Santa Monica fault that was not covered by either streets or buildings. Of the 19-km length onshore section of the Santa Monica fault, its apparent location has been delineated largely on the basis of geomorphic features and oil-well drilling. Seismic imaging efforts, in combination with other investigative methods, may be the best approach in locating and understanding the Santa Monica fault in the Los Angeles region.

This investigation and another recent seismic imaging investigation (Pratt et al., 1998) were undertaken to resolve the near-surface location, fault geometry, and faulting relations associated with the Santa Monica fault.

Study Area

Additional publication details

Publication type:
Publication Subtype:
USGS Numbered Series
Seismic images and fault relations of the Santa Monica thrust fault, West Los Angeles, California
Series title:
Open-File Report
Series number:
Year Published:
U.S. Geological Survey
Contributing office(s):
Earthquake Science Center
34 p.
United States
Los Angeles