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complexities are related to the long geological history of the continents. In the southwestern United States, for example, the fault systems that produce high earthquake hazards have developed over tens of millions of years by tectonic interactions among the heterogeneous ensemble of accreted terrains that constitute the North American continental lithosphere and the oceanic lithosphere of the Farallon and Pacific plates. These interactions have created a zone of deformation a thousand kilometers wide that extends from the continental coastline to the Rocky Mountains. The “master fault” of this plate-boundary zone is the strike-slip San Andreas system, but other types of faults participate in the deformation, from extension in the Basin and Range to contraction in the Transverse Ranges. Likewise, the great thrust faults that mark the subduction zones of the northwestern United States and Alaska are accompanied by secondary faulting distributed for considerable distances landward of the subduction boundary. Within the continental interior far from the present-day plate boundaries, deformation is localized on reactivated, older faults, and some of these structures are capable of generating large earthquakes (see Section 3.2).
The geometric complexity of fault systems is fractal in nature, with approximately self-similar roughness, segmentation, and branching over length scales ranging from meters to hundreds of kilometers (Figure 3.2). Fault systems also have mechanical heterogeneities due to litho-logic contrasts, uneven damage, and possibly pressurized compartments within fault zones (21). The understanding of fault system architecture and earthquake generation in such systems is at a rudimentary stage of development.
Fault Kinematics and Earthquake Recurrence
The subject of fault kinematics pertains to descriptions of earthquake occurrence and slip of individual faults at different time scales, and the partitioning of slip among faults to accommodate regional deformation. An important goal of this characterization is to address the fundamental question of how slow and smoothly distributed regional deformations across fault systems, as seen in geodetic observations, are eventually transformed, principally at the time of earthquakes, into localized slip on particular faults. To build a comprehensive picture of this process requires synthesis of detailed geologic, geophysical, and seismic observations. At present, some regions—particularly portions of California and Japan— have sufficient information to describe the recent history of large earthquakes, to make estimates of the long-term average of slip rates of the principal faults, and to map the surface strain field across fault systems. Though comprehensive descriptions of fault-system kinematics are not