Active Tectonics

The Active Tectonics program at the Department of Earth Sciences at USC focuses on the behavior of active and ancient faults and their associated folds, with the ultimate goal of understanding the mechanics of plate-boundary deformation. We work mainly at the critically important time scale of one to a few dozen earthquakes, with the goal of understanding the detailed interactions amongst the various tectonic elements that comprise plate boundaries.

We operate at the interface between structural geology, seismology, tectonic geomorphology, geodynamics, and seismic hazard assessment, and take full advantage of emerging technologies, such as LiDAR airborne laser swath mapping and cosmogenic radionuclide dating.

Recent research projects include:

  • analyses of slip rates and paleo-earthquake ages and displacements on a number of major continental faults designed to elucidate the pace and constancy (or lack thereof) of relative plate motions at the earthquake time scale,
  • documentation of exhumed faults in the pursuit of constraints on the dynamic behavior and structural evolution of major faults,
  • analysis of the evolution and hazard associated with blind thrust faults,
  • study of potential long-distance and long-term fault interactions, and possible triggering mechanisms of earthquake clusters, on both single faults and regional fault networks, with a focus on the relationship between upper crustal faulting and fault loading associated with the interseismic behavior of the lower crust.

The multi-disciplinary nature of these studies requires that we utilize a wide variety of research techniques, including paleoseismologic trenching, high-resolution seismic reflection imaging, analysis of landforms associated with active faults and folds, and both field and laboratory structural analysis of fault-zone rocks.


  • Zumberge Hall of Science (ZHS)
  • Los Angeles, CA 90089-0740
  • Phone: (213) 740-6106
  • Email: earthsci@usc.edu