Active Crustal Deformation in the Area of San Carlos, Baja California Sur, Mexico as Shown by Data of Local Earthquake Sequences
We analyzed earthquakes of sequences that occurred at different times near San Carlos, a town of approximately 5000 inhabitants. The seismic sequences happened during March–April 1989, October 2000–June 2001, and 5–15 February 2004 at about 200 km west of the Pacific-North America plate boundary. The strong shaking from initial earthquakes of the first two sequences prompted the installation of temporary seismic stations in the area. With data recorded by these stations, we found an earthquake distribution that is consistent with the northwest segment of the Santa Margarita fault. Both the focal depth, that seemed to increase in E–NE direction, and a composite fault-plane solution, obtained from polarity data of the small earthquakes, were also consistent with the main characteristics of that fault. We also found that our normal-faulting mechanism (east side down) was quite similar to centroid moment tensor solutions for earthquakes with Mw 5.4 and 5.3 that occurred in the area in February 2004. It is likely, then, that these larger earthquakes also occurred along the Santa Margarita Fault. To get some insight into the regional stress pattern, we compared the above mechanisms with mechanisms reported for other earthquakes of the Pacific margin of Baja California Sur and the Gulf of California regions. We observed that focal mechanisms of the two regions have T axes of stress that plunge sub horizontally in E–NE average direction. The corresponding P axes have N–NW average trend, but for the Pacific earthquakes these axes plunge at angles that are ~35° larger than those for the Gulf earthquakes. These more vertically inclined P axes of compressive stress mean substantial oblique fault motions. The mixture of oblique and strike-slip components of fault motions, as the focal mechanisms show, confirms a transtensional stress regime for the region. Before this research, we knew little about the seismicity and styles of faulting in the area. Now we know that earthquakes can occur along the coastline of Baja California, at 60 km east of the Tosco-Abreojos fault system. We conclude that transtensional deformation is taking place across a wide zone of the Pacific margin of Baja California. Finally, we point out that although the studied earthquakes were of small magnitude, they might serve as a reminder of the danger that future larger events pose to San Carlos.
KeywordsPacific margin of Baja California seismic activity transtensional stress regime
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