WHAT IS A FAULT?

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  • A fault is a fracture in the crust along which one side has moved relative to the other side. Faults can be very small or hundreds of miles long.
  • The earth's crust is composed of huge plates that are in slow but nearly constant motion.
  • Part of California is on the Pacific Plate, and part is on the North American Plate. The San Andreas Fault, which runs from the Salton Sea in Imperial County to Cape Mendocino in Humboldt County, is the boundary between these plates.
  • Sometimes one block of the crust moves up while the other moves down, sometimes they move horizontally in opposite directions (that's what's happening with the San Andreas Fault; Los Angeles is creeping closer to San Francisco).
  • Some faults are well known and easy to spot, such as the San Andreas. Others are underground, with nothing on the surface revealing their presence (a blind thrust fault). The 1994 Northridge earthquake was caused by a blind thrust fault.