Understanding of the behavior of plate boundary zones has progressed to the point where reasonably comprehensive physical models can predict their evolution. The San Andreas fault system in the San Francisco Bay region (SFBR) is dominated by a few major faults whose behavior over about one earthquake cycle is fairly well understood. By combining the past history of large ruptures on SFBR faults with a recently proposed physical model of strain accumulation in the SFBR, we derive the evolution of regional stress from 1838 until the present. This effort depends on (1) an existing compilation of the source properties of historic and contemporary SFBR earthquakes based on documented shaking, geodetic data, and seismic data (Bakun, 1999) and (2) a few key parameters of a simple regional viscoelastic coupling model constrained by recent GPS data (Pollitz and Nyst, 2004). Although uncertainties abound in the location, magnitude, and fault geometries of historic ruptures and the physical model relies on gross simplifications, the resulting stress evolution model is sufficiently detailed to provide a useful window into the past stress history. In the framework of Coulomb failure stress, we find that virtually all M ??? 5.8 earthquakes prior to 1906 and M ??? 5.5 earthquakes after 1906 are consistent with stress triggering from previous earthquakes. These events systematically lie in zones of predicted stress concentration elevated 5-10 bars above the regional average. The SFBR is predicted to have emerged from the 1906 "shadow" in about 1980, consistent with the acceleration in regional seismicity at that time. The stress evolution model may be a reliable indicator of the most likely areas to experience M ??? 5.5 shocks in the future.
Additional publication details
A physical model for strain accumulation in the San Francisco Bay region: Stress evolution since 1838