Strike-Slip Fault: Definition & Example

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  • 0:00 Definition of…
  • 0:58 The Strike-Slip Earthquake
  • 1:34 Specialized Types of…
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Mary Ellen Ellis
Have you ever experienced an earthquake? It can be a terrifying thing to be a part of, and if you've been shaken up by one before, you might blame the strike-slip fault.

Definition of Strike-Slip Fault

In geology, a fault is a fracture in the earth. These cracks will run through rock and soil and anything else that gets in the way. If you have ever felt an earthquake, you know what it feels like for the earth to move along one of these fractures. When the earth moves parallel to the fracture, we call it a strike-slip fault. Another way to think of this is as a side-to-side motion.

There are two different types of strike-slip fault, which are really only different based on your perspective. If you stand on one side of the fault and see the other side move to the right, we call that a dextral, or a right-lateral strike-slip fault. If you see it move to the left, we call it a sinistral, or left-lateral strike-slip fault. A dextral fault to you may be a sinistral fault to someone facing you on the other side of the line. The other types of faults move up and down rather than side to side.

The Strike-Slip Earthquake

Earthquakes occur because the crust of the earth moves along its fractures, or faults. The circulation patterns of the mantle, which is the fluid rock layer beneath the crust, are responsible for the crust moving. As you can imagine, rock moving against rock doesn't go very smoothly. There is a whole lot of friction between layers of rock and earth. As the two sides of a strike-slip fault try to move past each other, they get stuck and then stress builds up. When they finally overcome it and move past each other, you get the literally earth-shaking experience of an earthquake.

Specialized Types of Strike-Slip Faults

When a fault includes vertical movement, that is, one side moves up and the other side moves down, we call it a dip-slip fault. Sometimes a fault has characteristics of both the dip and the strike. We call this an oblique-slip fault. The rock on each side of the fault moves horizontally, as in a strike-slip fault, but also vertically, as in a dip-slip fault.

Another type of strike-slip fault is called a transform fault. This is a strike-slip fault that is connected to other faults at each end. A transform fault also makes up part of the boundary between two tectonic plates. Most transform faults are found on the ocean floor, where they connect plate boundaries that separate to create new seafloor. As the seafloor spreads, it opens up and magma flows through the opening to make new rock on the bottom of the ocean. The transform faults zigzag between these spreading points, relieving tension in the crust.

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