Parkfield's regularly occurring M6 mainshocks, about every 25 years, have over two decades stoked seismologists' hopes to successfully predict an earthquake of significant size. However, with the longest known inter-event time of 38 years, the latest M6 in the series (28 Sep 2004) did not conform to any of the applied forecast models, questioning once more the predictability of earthquakes in general. Our study investigates the spatial pattern of b-values along the Parkfield segment through the seismic cycle and documents a stably stressed structure. The forecasted rate of M6 earthquakes based on Parkfield's microseismicity b-values corresponds well to observed rates. We interpret the observed b-value stability in terms of the evolution of the stress field in that area: the M6 Parkfield earthquakes do not fully unload the stress on the fault, explaining why time recurrent models fail. We present the 1989 M6.9 Loma Prieta earthquake as counter example, which did release a significant portion of the stress along its fault segment and yields a substantial change in b-values.
Additional publication details
Earthquake recurrence models fail when earthquakes fail to reset the stress field