One of the mysteries of earthquake mechanics is why earthquakes stop. This process determines the difference between small and devastating ruptures. One possibility is that fault geometry controls earthquake size. We test this hypothesis using a numerical algorithm that simulates spontaneous rupture propagation in a three-dimensional medium and apply our knowledge to two California fault zones. We find that the size difference between the 1934 and 1966 Parkfield, California, earthquakes may be the product of a stepover at the southern end of the 1934 earthquake and show how the 1992 Landers, California, earthquake followed physically reasonable expectations when it jumped across en echelon faults to become a large event. If there are no linking structures, such as transfer faults, then strike-slip earthquakes are unlikely to propagate through stepovers >5 km wide. Copyright 1999 by the American Geophysical Union.
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Dynamic 3D simulations of earthquakes on en echelon faults