Fault Map







         Alquist-Priolo Fault Zones

Using geophysics to study fault-rupture hazard zones

In 1973 a law called the Alquist-Priolo Earthquake Fault Zoning Act was passed in California.  Its purpose is to prevent the construction of new buildings across known active faults.  It requires the California Division of Mines and Geology to delineate "Earthquake Fault Zones" along active faults. Building in an active fault zone requires a geology report.  Ideally the report includes the fault's location, whether the fault is active or not and building setbacks where needed.  Often faults are difficult to find.  Deep young alluvium prevents trenches from reaching ruptured soils making determining a fault's location and activity difficult.  This case study illustrates how we used high resolution seismic refraction to overcome this problem and locate a fault.

We conducted a high resolution refraction investigation in a valley that contained several parcels of rural ranch land.  Most of the valley consisted of flat grassy fields used for horse and cattle grazing. There were low hills to the east and west. The geology consisted of  young alluvium overlaying a Quaternary-Tertiary bedrock. The most striking geomorphic feature of the area was a northwest-southeast lineament formed by the base of the hills on the east side of the valley. Several geologic studies suggested the lineament was caused by an eroded escarpment.  Some investigators attributed the escarpment to ground rupture.  Direct evidence of ground rupture was found in trenches excavated two miles southeast of the site. There was good evidence that a fault might run through the site though different geologists placed the fault in different locations.  A 1958 regional investigation inferred the fault ran under the west side of the valley and regional investigations in 1980 and 1981 inferred the fault ran under the east side of the valley. The general consensus was that the fault was on the east side of the valley.

Inferred Fault Traces

Inferred Fault Locations

Plans called for subdividing the valley.  Approximately 3500 feet by 1500 feet of the proposed development fell into a designated earthquake fault zone on the valley's east side.  Many trenches were dug along the different inferred fault traces but only one trench found indications of ground rupture.  The problem was the fault did not disrupt the young alluvium and the bedrock was too deep for trenching.  The geologists needed to find shallow bedrock along the fault trace where they could dig a trench and obtain more evidence for building setbacks. Without this information, additional trenching was too costly and unproductive.

To locate the fault, we performed a seismic refraction survey using the generalized reciprocal method (GRM) for data collection. GRM differs from standard refraction in that more shot points and geophones are used and a greater amount of raw data is collected. Using this method we can map lateral changes in a bedrock's compressional (P) wave velocity.  An abrupt change in velocity is an indication that a fault has juxtaposed to materials with different seismic properties. GRM is a great technique for finding faults when the bedrock on one side of the fault has a different P-wave velocity than the bedrock on the other side.

Refraction Line Locations
Line locations

We began this investigation by collected four seismic refraction lines near the trench where the fault was found.  Based on the data from these lines another trench was dug that successfully encountered the fault. The general strike of the fault was determined from the four seismic lines and the two trenches.  We collected an additional 10 refraction lines using the initial data to predict the fault's location. The lines varied from 200 feet to 600 feet in length.  Compressional waves were generated using a hammer and plate for the shorter lines.  Small explosive charges were used to create P-waves for the longer lines. The data collected along some lines showed very strong indications of faulting. There were offsets in the arrival time diagrams, low P-wave velocity zones and offsets within the bedrock. Data from other lines only showed small changes in the P-wave velocity.

Bedrock & Velocity Profiles Showing Strong Fault Indications
Refraction Data

Bedrock and Velocity profiles Showing Possible Fault Indications
Refraction Data

Collecting multiple lines across the fault was important.  This method works best when there is a change in P-wave velocity on either side of the fault. Along one refraction line the materials on either side of the fault had the same P-wave velocity and the fault was not detected. Along four refraction lines, there was a small change in the P-wave velocity. We could not be sure if the small velocity changes were caused by the fault, bedding or by changes in weathering.  Along the remaining nine lines there were a significant changes in the P-wave velocity across the fault. These changes were most likely caused by displacement across the fault.  Using the nine significant anomalies and the four weaker ones, we could trace the fault across the eastern side of the valley.

Based on the results of the refraction data, four additional trenches were dug that successfully found ground rupture. In areas too deep to trench, boreholes were drilled that confirmed the bedrock depths calculated from the refraction data. A fault zone and building setbacks were successfully established from the trenching and refraction data.

Location of Fault
Fault Location

This case study illustrates how seismic refraction along with traditional trenching was used to locate a fault. The geophysical data gave the geologists the information needed to successfully locate the fault. Seismics is just one of many geophysical techniques offered by J R Associates. Please contact us to discuss how our services could benefit you.

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