Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Why did the Road Cross the San Andreas Fault? 16 Years of Geologic Change (an Update)

2002
I've been leading geology field studies trips to lots of places in the American West for 30 years and started to take digital pictures in 2001. I sometimes struggle to find new things to photograph when I visit a place for the 30th time, but in some cases it is not a problem. There are geologic changes that happen on a yearly basis, and with sixteen years of photos, the changes become obvious. This is a continuing update from a post in 2013, and I'll probably continue updating for the foreseeable future.
2004
Highway 25 in the California Coast Ranges connects the town of Hollister with the access road to Pinnacles National Park (formerly Pinnacles National Monument). Along the way the highway crosses the San Andreas fault in a section where the fault creeps an inch or so each year (36°35'54.27"N, 121°11'40.19"W). Most years we've stopped to have a look at the effect the movement has on the pavement. In 2002 and 2004, the damage was obvious.
2008
By 2008 someone had patched the road, and no fault motion was evident.
2009
Little damage was evident in 2009 either. But by 2010 cracks had begun to appear as the fault stressed the pavement.
2010
The fact that the fault creeps in this region is a good thing. It means that stress is not building along the fault surface, but instead is being released gradually. The sections of the fault to the north and south of the creeping section are locked by friction, and are building up the ominous stress that will eventually produce quakes with magnitudes in the range of 7.5 to 8.0. The quakes are coming and we need to be as prepared as possible.
2012
By 2012, the road had been completely repaved, and  yet the shearing was already evident.
2013
It became even more pronounced by 2013 and in 2014. Just by chance, the person working as a scale was the same individual as in 2004.
2014

In 2015 the fractures were moderately larger. They'll need to start thinking of road repairs before long.
2015
In 2016 Laura once again provided scale, as she did in 2014 and 2004.
2016
Here in 2017, long-time trip volunteer Mary provides scale. The cracks in the road are just a bit larger, but they didn't look appreciably different than the previous year except for a twist (pun intended).

2017
And so we come to Sunday's (Dec. 2, 2018) look at the road. The break to my eye seems more continuous. It's now been six years since the road was completely repaved.
2018

Last year the paint was deformed (twisted), but not split (below).
2017
The offset paint strip reminds me of illustrations of elastic rebound theory, the idea that stress builds up on a fault line over time. In that model, the land on either side of the fault is distorted over time until the frictional resistance is overcome and the rock snaps back to its original shape. That won't be happening with the paint. Last year in 2017 I said "if they don't repair the road (as they often do; see above), it will probably show a clear break by next year." Here's what transpired:

First, a close-up on 2017's center stripe...
2017
And here's how it looked on Sunday, Dec. 2, 2018:
2018
As predicted, the break in the paint is complete!

So now we await next year's trip...

These little changes that happen at a rate visible in human lifetimes add up to huge changes when multiplied by thousands or millions of years. The nearby eroded volcano of Pinnacles National Park has been displaced 195 miles (315 kilometers) in the last 20 million years or so by movement along the San Andreas.

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