Microseismic evidence for bookshelf faulting in western Montana

Ellen M. Smith, Hilary R. Martens, Michael C. Stickney

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


One of the most seismically active regions in the United States, located hundreds of kilometers inland from the nearest plate boundary, is the Intermountain Seismic Belt (ISB). The 6 July 2017 M 5.8 earthquake occurred 11 km southeast of Lincoln, Montana, within the ISB. This was the largest earthquake to rupture in the state of Montana since the 1959 M 7.3 Hebgen Lake earthquake. We use continuous seismic data from the University of Montana Seismic Network, the Montana Regional Seismic Network, and the U.S. Geological Survey to investigate the Lincoln aftershock sequence and to evaluate crustal stress conditions. We manually picked P- and S-wave arrival times, computed 4110 hypocenter locations and 2336 double-difference relocations, and generated focal mechanisms for 414 aftershocks (12+ polarities) in the 2 yr following the mainshock. Based on the alignment of aftershocks, we infer that the mainshock occurred on a north-northeast-trending left-lateral strike-slip fault. The orientation of the fault is unexpected, given that it strikes nearly perpendicular to the prominent Lewis and Clark line (LCL) faults in the area. Although most aftershocks concentrate near the mainshock, several distinct clusters of microseismic activity emerge along subparallel faults located primarily to the west of the mainshock. The subparallel faults also exhibit leftlateral strike-slip motion oblique to the LCL. We postulate that the aftershocks reveal the clockwise rotation of local-scale crustal blocks about vertical axes within a larger, right-lateral shear zone. The inferred block rotations are consistent with a bookshelffaulting mechanism, which likely accommodates differential crustal motion to the north and south of the LCL region. The tension axes of well-constrained focal mechanisms indicate local northeast-southwest extension with a mean direction of N60°E.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)802-809
Number of pages8
JournalSeismological Research Letters
Issue number2 A
StatePublished - Mar 2021


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