Date of Award


Degree Name

MS in Civil and Environmental Engineering


Civil and Environmental Engineering


Robb Eric S. Moss


Surface fault rupture poses a serious threat to infrastructure in many seismically active regions, but knowledge about the factors which control the likelihood of surface displacement is limited. Current probabilistic frameworks rely only on fault mechanism and moment magnitude to predict the probability of rupture to the ground surface. However, recent work has shown that there may be other parameters which also deserve consideration. For example, statistical analyses have demonstrated that variation in near surface material stiffness may significantly affect the probability of surface rupture over reverse faults. In addition, numerical investigations indicate that the rupture history of native soil deposits also greatly influences the nature of rupture propagation. Given that evidence exists which suggests multiple variables are at work, this study aimed to improve our understanding of which are most critical for predicting surface fault rupture hazard. We sought to generate physical evidence concerning the impact of near surface soil stiffness, soil type, and rupture history on fault rupture propagation. A 3 meter long by 1 meter wide fault box apparatus was constructed to simulate idealized reverse fault rupture oriented at 45° beneath 60cm of soil. Relatively large dimensions were chosen so that shear wave velocity measurements could be taken directly without interference from the walls of the apparatus. Experiments were conducted on loose sand, dense sand, stiff clay, and soft clay. The same sand was used for both the dense and loose sand experiments and is identified as Monterey #2/16. The clay was a scale model mixture of San Francisco Bay Mud and consisted of kaolinite, bentonite, class C fly ash, and water. Separate batches of clay were mixed with differing final water contents for the stiff and soft clay experiments. In each case, the fault box was filled to 60 cm and rupture was driven to the surface in two phases. The first phase represented an undisturbed native soil deposit with no existing shear band. The second simulated repeat rupture along a pre-existing shear band. The results indicate that increasing material stiffness promotes rupture propagation in both sand and clay. When disturbed soil is re-ruptured, surface rupture occurred much more readily in all materials. Overall, the presence of a pre-existing shear band was shown to have the greatest impact on the likelihood of surface rupture, though both material stiffness and type were also found to have a strong influence as well. The fault box experiments support the findings from previous work as well as shed new light on which parameters are most critical for accurate surface rupture predictions.