The conventional model of strain accumulation on a vertical transform fault is a discrete screw dislocation in an elastic half-space with the Burgers vector of the dislocation increasing at the rate of relative plate motion. It would be more realistic to replace that discrete dislocation by a dislocation distribution, presumably a pileup in which the individual dislocations are in equilibrium. The length of the pileup depends upon the applied stress and the amount of slip that has occurred at depth. I argue here that the dislocation pileup (the transition on the fault from no slip to slip at the full plate rate) occupies a substantial portion of the lithosphere thickness. A discrete dislocation at an adjustable depth can reproduce the surface deformation profile predicted by a pileup so closely that it will be difficult to distinguish between the two models. The locking depth (dislocation depth) of that discrete dislocation approximation is substantially (???30%) larger than that (depth to top of the pileup) in the pileup model. Thus, in inverting surface deformation data using the discrete dislocation model, the locking depth in the model should not be interpreted as the true locking depth. Although dislocation pileup models should provide a good explanation of the surface deformation near the fault trace, that explanation may not be adequate at greater distances from the fault trace because approximating the expected horizontally distributed deformation at subcrustal depths by uniform slip concentrated on the fault is not justified.
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Dislocation pileup as a representation of strain accumulation on a strike-slip fault