Photomosaics and logs of trenches on the San Andreas Fault, Thousand Palms Oasis, California

Open-File Report 2003-449

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We present photomosaics and logs of the walls of trenches excavated for a paleoseismic study at Thousand Palms Oasis (Fig. 1). The site is located on the Mission Creek strand of the San Andreas fault zone, one of two major active strands of the fault in the Indio Hills along the northeast margin of the Coachella Valley (Fig. 2). The Coachella Valley section is the most poorly understood major part of the San Andreas fault with regard to slip rate and timing of past large-magnitude earthquakes, and therefore earthquake hazard. No large earthquakes have occurred for more than three centuries, the longest elapsed time for any part of the southern San Andreas fault. In spite of this, the Working Group on California Earthquake Probabilities (1995) assigned the lowest 30-year conditional probability on the southern San Andreas fault to the Coachella Valley. Models of the behavior of this part of the fault, however, have been based on very limited geologic data.

The Thousand Palms Oasis is an attractive location for paleoseismic study primarily because of the well-bedded late Holocene sedimentary deposits with abundant layers of organic matter for radiocarbon dating necessary to constrain the timing of large prehistoric earthquakes. Previous attempts to develop a chronology of paleoearthquakes for the region have been hindered by the scarcity of in-situ 14C-dateable material for age control in this desert environment. Also, the fault in the vicinity of Thousand Palms Oasis consists of a single trace that is well expressed, both geomorphically and as a vegetation lineament (Figs. 2, 3). Results of our investigations are discussed in Fumal et al. (2002) and indicate that four and probably five surface-rupturing earthquakes occurred along this part of the fault during the past 1200 years. The average recurrence time for these earthquakes is 215 ± 25 years, although interevent times may have been as short as a few decades or as long as 400 years. Thus, although the elapsed time since the most recent earthquake, about 320 years, is about 50% longer than the average recurrence time, it is not necessarily unprecedented.

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USGS Numbered Series
Photomosaics and logs of trenches on the San Andreas Fault, Thousand Palms Oasis, California
Series title:
Open-File Report
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U.S. Geological Survey
Contributing office(s):
Earthquake Science Center
2 Sheets: 69.66 x 34.51 inches and 69.02 x 34.12 inches
United States
Other Geospatial:
Coachella Valley;Thousand Palms Oasis
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