San Andreas Fault

The San Andreas Fault marks the junction between the North American and Pacific Plates. The fault is 1300 km long, extends to at least 25 km in depth, and has a north west-south east trend. It is classified as a right lateral (dextral) strike-slip fault.  

Loading the player ...

Although both plates are moving in a north westerly direction, the Pacific Plate is moving faster than the North American Plate, so the relative movement of the North American Plate is to the south east. The Pacific Plate is being moved north west due to sea floor spreading from the East Pacific Rise (divergent margin) in the Gulf of California. The North American Plate is being pushed west and north west due to sea floor spreading from the Mid Atlantic Ridge (divergent margin).

Movement along the fault is not smooth and continual, but sporadic and jerky. Frictional forces lock the blocks of lithosphere together for years at a time. When the frictional forces are overcome, the plates slip suddenly and shallow focus earthquakes are generated. Landscape and manmade features (eg rivers, fences and roads) are displaced across the fault as movement occurs. San Francisco has historically suffered significant earthquakes, notably in 1906 and 1989.

The average rate of movement along the San Andreas Fault is between 30mm and 50mm per year over the last 10 million years. If current rates of movement are maintained Los Angeles will be adjacent to San Francisco in approximately 20 million years.