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Published 1990 | Published
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Probabilities of Large Earthquakes in the San Francisco Bay Region, California


In 1987 a Working Group on California Earthquake Probabilities was organized by the U.S. Geological Survey at the recommendation of the National Earthquake Prediction Evaluation Council (NEPEC). The membership included representatives from private industry, academia, and the U.S. Geological Survey. The Working Group computed long-term probabilities of earthquakes along the major faults of the San Andreas fault system on the basis of consensus interpretations of information then available. Faults considered by the Working Group included the San Andreas fault proper, the San Jacinto and Imperial-faults of southern California, and the Hayward fault of northern California. The Working Group issued a final report of its findings in 1988 (Working Group, 1988) that was reviewed and endorsed by NEPEC. As a consequence of the magnitude 7.1 Loma Prieta, California, earthquake of October 17, 1989, a second Working Group on California Earthquake Probabilities was organized under the auspices of NEPEC. Its charge was to review and, as necessary, revise the findings of the 1988 report on the probability of large earthquakes in the San Francisco Bay region. In particular, the Working Group was requested to examine the probabilities of large earthquakes in the context of new interpretations or physical changes resulting from the Loma Prieta earthquake. In addition, it was to consider new information pertaining to the San Andreas and other faults in the region obtained subsequent to the release of the 1988 report. Insofar as modified techniques and improved data have been used in this study, the same approach might also, of course, modify the probabilities for southern California. This reevaluation has, however, been specifically limited to the San Francisco Bay region. This report is intended to summarize the collective knowledge and judgments of a diverse group of earthquake scientists to assist in formulation of rational earthquake policies. A considerable body of information about active faults in the San Francisco Bay region leads to the conclusion that major earthquakes are likely within the next tens of years. Several techniques can be used to compute probabilities of future earthquakes, although there are uncertainties about the validity of specific assumptions or models that must be made when applying these techniques. The body of this report describes the data and detailed assumptions that lead to specific probabilities for different fault segments. Additional data and future advances in our understanding of earthquake physics may alter the way that these probabilities are estimated. Even though this uncertainty must be acknowledged, we emphasize that the findings of this report are supported by other lines of argument and are consistent with our best understanding of the likelihood for the occurrence of earthquakes in the San Francisco Bay region.

Additional Information

© 1990 USGS. The Working Group thanks the many individuals who cooperated in preparation of this report. We particularly wish to acknowledge the contributions of expertise and unpublished data from Karin Budding, Lynn Dietz, Timothy Hall, Brian Kilgore, James Lienkaemper, Michael Lisowski, Mark Matthews, David Oppenheimer, Carol Prentice, William Prescott, Paul Reasenberg, James Savage, and Robert Simpson. The National Earthquake Prediction Evaluation Council (chaired by Thomas McEvilly) and the California Earthquake Prediction Evaluation Council (chaired by James Davis) reviewed the report and offered numerous useful suggestions. William Bakun and Thomas Heaton provided additional detailed technical reviews. Helen Gibbons edited the report. The efforts of Nancy Arp in preparing this report and in arranging the meetings of the Working Group are especially appreciated.

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Published - Allen_1990_USGS_Circular1053.pdf


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August 19, 2023
January 13, 2024