Observations of fold growth in fold-thrust belt settings show that brittle deformation can be localized or distributed. Localized shear is associated with frictional slip on primary faults, while distributed brittle deformation is recognized in the folding of the bulk medium. The interplay of these processes is clearly seen in fault-bend folds, which are folds cored by a fault with an abrupt change in dip (e.g., a ramp-décollement system). While the kinematics of fault-bend folding were described decades ago, the dynamics of these structures remain poorly understood, especially the evolution of fault slip and off-fault deformation over different periods of the earthquake cycle. In order to investigate the dynamics of fault-bend folding, we develop a numerical modeling framework that combines a long-term elasto-plastic model of folding in a layered medium with a rate-state frictional model of fault strength evolution in order to simulate geologically and mechanically consistent earthquake sequences. In our simulations, slip on the ramp-décollement fault and inelastic fold deformation are mechanically coupled processes that build geologic structure. As a result, we observe that folding of the crust (like fault slip) does not occur steadily in time but is modulated by earthquake cycle stresses. We suggest combining seismological and geodetic observations with geological fault models to uncover how elastic and inelastic crustal deformation generate fault-bend folds. We find that distinguishing between the elastic and inelastic response of the crust to fault slip is possible only in the postseismic period following large earthquakes, indicating that for most fault systems this information currently remains inaccessible.
earthquake cycle, flexural slip, folding, friction, geodesy, off-fault deformation