Historic ground failures in Northern California triggered by earthquakes

Professional Paper 993
By:  and 



A major source of earthquake-related damage and casualties in northern California has been ground failures generated by the seismic shaking, including landslides, lateral spreads, ground settlement, and surface cracks. The historical record shows that, except for offshore shocks, the geographic area affected and the quantity and general severity of ground failures increase markedly with Richter magnitude. Hence, the largest historical event, the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, has been the most important generator of ground failures. Because of recent population growth and land development in northern California, the potential for damage in future events is enormous compared with that existing in 1906. Reports of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and other northern California earthquakes and descriptions of ground failures therein are used to (1) identify and clarify the types of ground failures associated with earthquakes, (2) provide a guide for engineers, planners, and others responsible for minimizing seismic hazards, and (3) form a data base for other geotechnical studies of earthquake-triggered pound failures. Geologic, hydrologic, and topographic setting have an important influence on ground failure development as well as distance from the causative fault. Areas especially vulnerable to ground failure in northern California have been oversteepened slopes, such as mountain cliffs, streambanks, and coastal bluffs, and lowland deposits, principally Holocene fluvial deposits, deltaic deposits, and poorly compacted fills. Liquefaction has been the direct cause of most lowland failures. The historical record suggests that ground failures during future large earthquakes are most likely to occur at the same or geologically similar locations as failures during previous earhquakes.

Study Area

Publication type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Title Historic ground failures in Northern California triggered by earthquakes
Series title Professional Paper
Series number 993
DOI 10.3133/pp993
Year Published 1978
Language English
Publisher U.S. Geological Survey
Contributing office(s) Western Earthquake Hazards Team
Description Report: iv, 177 p.; 5 Plates: 34.00 x 21.00 inches and smaller; 2 Photographs folders
Country United States
State California
Online Only (Y/N) N
Additional Online Files (Y/N) Y
Google Analytic Metrics Metrics page
Additional publication details