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Image of paper modelHow to Construct Seven Paper Models that Describe Faulting of the Earth

By Tau Rho Alpha* and John C. Lahr*

Open-file Report 90-257A

This report is preliminary and has not been reviewed for conformity with U.S. Geological Survey editorial standards. Any use of trade, firm, or product names is for descriptive purposes only and does not imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.

Although this program has been used by the U.S. Geological Survey, no warranty, expressed or implied, is made by the USGS as to the accuracy and functioning of the program and related program material, nor shall the fact of distribution constitute any such warranty, and no responsibility is assumed by the USGS in connection therewith.

*U.S. Geological, Survey, Menlo Park, CA 94025

Educator's Guide

A fault is a fracture surface within the earth on which slip or displacement has taken place. The total displacement on a fault may be less than a few centimeters or may be measured in hundreds of kilometers. Large displacements are commonly achieved by a series of sudden slips associated with earthquakes, but under some conditions involving slow slip, called creep. Many possible fault configurations are possible; the fracture surface may be planar or curved, and the slip may be uniform everywhere or may change from place to place, as in a rotational displacement or a displacement that becomes smaller and smaller and finally dies out. In this report we will focus on those portions of faults with uniform displacement on planar fracture surfaces (figure 1) and will not discuss complex faults or the details associated with the edges or intersections of faults (figure 2).

The three fundamental fault types are normal, reverse, and strike-slip (figure 1). Normal faults involve a dipping fracture surface on which the block above the fault plane, the hanging-wall block, is downthrown with respect to the block below, called the footwall block. Normal faults are common in regions of crustal extension. In contrast, reverse fault displacements, which are common in regions of compression, are such that the block above the fracture surface is uplifted with respect to the block below. Strike-slip faults generally involve no vertical motion, but instead are produced by two blocks that are sliding laterally past one another. The sense of lateral motion can be right lateral (dextral) or left lateral (sinistral). Imagine that you are standing on one side of the fault. If the other side has moved to the right, as may be indicated by offset streams, ridges, roads, fences, or other features that cross the fault, it is a right-lateral fault. If the other side has been offset to the left, the fault is left lateral. Few faults are, in fact, purely normal, reverse, or transverse, but instead combine transverse motion with either normal or reverse motion. This combined motion is termed oblique slip.

Figure 1. Simple fault types.

Normal fault

Reverse fault

Normal fault Reverse fault

Right-lateral strike-slip fault

Left-lateral strike-slip fault

Oblique-slip fault

Right-lateral strike-slip fault Left-lateral strike-slip fault Oblique-slip fault
Figure 2. Complex fault types.

Fault displacement decreases with depth and fault terminates in a fold

Fault surface is curved, resulting in block tilting

One block is rotated with respect to another

Fault displacement decreases with depth and fault terminates in a fold Fault surface is curved, resulting in block tilting One block is rotated with respect to another

When faults extend to the Earth's surface, displacing parts of the landscape, landforms are developed or modified. The portion of the fracture surface that is exposed by faulting is called the fault scarp (figure 3). Fault scarps may initially be angular and well defined, but over time they are modified by weathering and erosion on the upper portions while the lower portions become buried by eroded debris (talus). If a region is sliced by a series of subparallel normal faults with sufficient displacement, horst-and-graben topography may develop. A horst is a block that has remained high relative to those on either side, whereas a graben is depressed relative to the adjacent blocks (figure 4).

Figure 3. Elements of a fault.
Elements of a fault
Figure 4. A collection of faults.
A collection of faults

Continue to fault models

Description of Report

This report contains instructions and patterns for preparing seven three-dimensional paper models that schematically illustrate common earth faults and associated landforms. The faults described are: normal, reverse, right- and left-lateral strike-slip, and oblique-slip. There are also models and discussions of two fault-produced landforms, a graben and a horst.

These models are intended to help students and others visualize the principal classes of faults and learn some of the terminology used by geologists to describe faults. By constructing and examining these models, students will obtain a greater appreciation of the relationship between fault displacements and the landforms that result.

The date of this Open-File Report is 4/12/90 (version 1). OF 90-257-A, paper copy; OF 90-257-B, 3.5-in. Macintosh diskette.

The date of version 2 of this Open-File Report is 2/7/92. OF 90-257-A, paper copy; OF 90-257-B, 3.5-in. Macintosh diskette.

Purchasers of the diskette version 2 of this report, which includes all of the text and graphics, can use HyperCard 2.0™ software (not supplied) to change the model (by adding geologic patterns, symbols, colors, etc.) or to transfer the model to other graphics software packages. Requirements for the diskette version 2 are: Apple Computer, Inc., HyperCard 2.0™ software, and an Apple Macintosh™ computer. If you are using System 7, we recommend using at least 3 MB of RAM with 1.5 MB of system memory available for HyperCard.

To see the entire page (card size: MacPaint), select "Scroll" from "Go" menu and move the hand pointer in the scroll window. If you are experiencing trouble with user-level buttons, select message from the "Go" menu. Type "magic" in the message box and press return. Three more user-level buttons should appear.

To order this report contact: USGS Information Services, Box 25286, Denver, CO 80225 OR CALL 1-800-USA-MAPS


The authors thank Robert E. Wallace for reviewing an earlier version of this report.

Selected References for Additional Reading

Atwood, Wallace W., 1964, The physiographic provinces of North America: New York, Blaisdell Publishing Co., 536 p.

Billings, Marland P., 1946, Structural geology: New York, Prentice-Hall Inc., 473 p.

Johnson, D. W., 1930, Geomorphologic aspects of rift valleys, 15th. International Geologic Congress, Proceedings. Vol. 2, p. 354-373.

Lobeck, Armin K., 1939, Geomorphology: New York, McGraw-Hill Book Co. Inc., 731 p.

Strahler, Arthur N., 1969, Physical Geography, 3rd ed., New York, John Wiley and Sons, Inc., 733 p.

Wallace, R. E., 1968, Notes on stream channels offset by the San Andreas fault, southern Coast Ranges, California, in Dickinson, W. R., and Grantz, Arthur, eds., Proceedings of conference on geologic problems of San Andreas fault system: Stanford, California, Stanford University Publications, Geological Sciences, Vol. 11, p. 6-21.


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