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3 Types of Faults: Normal, Reverse and Strike-Slip


Fault Types

The 3 types of faults are:

  • Normal faults
  • Reverse faults
  • Strike-slip faults

Let’s review the fault types.

An intuition for the 3 types of faults

Think of faults like taking a thick mat and snapping it:

  • If it splits with an incline, it’s a dip-slip type of fault
  • If it doesn’t have an incline, it’s strike-slip

Now, you have 2 mats. Put them on water so they float against each other. Here’s what could happen with their relative movements:

1. Normal Fault

The upper block moves downward relative to the lower block. (dip-slip)

earthquake fault types normal

2. Reverse/thrust Fault

The upper block moves upward relative to the lower block. (dip-slip)

earthquake fault types reverse fault

3. Strike-slip fault

Both blocks slide horizontally across one another. (Strike-slip)

earthquake fault types strike-slip

Now, you can substitute these terms:

  • Fault = Fracture in two mats with relative movement
  • Dip-slip = Incline split with vertical movement (upwards or downwards)
  • Strike-slip = Straight split with horizontal movement (right or left lateral)
  • Lithosphere = Floating mat
  • Asthenosphere = Water

What is the speed of fault movement?

At faults, there is an enormous amount of friction between plates. Like a stretched spring, it stores tremendous potential energy near the fault.

  • CREEP: If movement is slow at the fault, it’s called “creep”. By definition, “creep” means the fault is always absent of sudden movements that could create an earthquake.
  • EARTHQUAKE: But if the two plates have a sudden jerky movement, this generates enough force to produce an “earthquake”. At this point, elastic waves shoot outwards which is the force one would feel from an earthquake.

Where do faults occur?

All plate tectonic boundaries are faults because they always have movement relative to each other. By definition, plate tectonics always converge, diverge, or slide across each other.

But faults can occur within plates as fractures as well. For example, the New Madrid Fault is a massive fracture in Missouri. Over time, this fault has caused the Mississippi River to run a different course.

Reverse (thrust) faults are common in areas of compression. For example, reverse thrusts exist in areas with subducting plates such as along the coast of Japan.

How do faults work?

Now, you know the 3 types of faults are:

  • Normal fault
  • Reverse fault
  • Strike-slip fault

Some consider a 4th type of fault:

  • Oblique slip fault

Oblique slips are a combination of any of these 3 types of faults.

What else do you want to learn about faults? Please let us know with a comment below.

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