Lithologic Control of the Depth of Earthquakes in Southern California

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Science  02 Aug 1996:
Vol. 273, Issue 5275, pp. 639-642
DOI: 10.1126/science.273.5275.639


The depth distribution of southern California earthquakes indicates that areas underlain by schist basement rocks have a shallower (4 to 10 kilometers) maximum depth of earthquakes than do areas with other types of basement rocks. The predominant minerals in the schists become plastic at lower temperatures, and thus at shallower depths, than the minerals in the other basement rocks. The lateral variations in lithology will control the depth extent (and thus the magnitudes) of potential future earthquakes; these depths can be determined from the depth of the current background seismicity.