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In geology, a fault is a planar fracture or discontinuity in a volume of rock, across which there has been significant displacement as a result of rock-mass movement. Large faults within the Earth's crust result from the action of plate tectonic forces, with the largest forming the boundaries between the plates, such as subduction zones or transform faults. Energy release associated with rapid movement on active faults is the cause of most earthquakes. A fault plane is the plane that represents the fracture surface of a fault. A fault trace or fault line is the intersection of a fault plane with the ground surface. A fault trace is also the line commonly plotted on geologic maps to represent a fault.[1][2]

Since faults do not usually consist of a single, clean fracture, geologists use the term fault zone when referring to the zone of complex deformation associated with the fault plane. The two sides of a non-vertical fault are known as the hanging wall and footwall. By definition, the hanging wall occurs above the fault plane and the footwall occurs below the fault.[3] This terminology comes from mining: when working a tabular ore body, the miner stood with the footwall under his feet and with the hanging wall above him.[4]


  1. USGS, Earthquake Glossary – fault trace, retrieved 10 April 2015
  2. USGS (30 April 2003), Where are the Fault Lines in the United States East of the Rocky Mountains?, archived from the original on 18 November 2009, retrieved 6 March 2010
  3. USGS, Hanging wall Foot wall, retrieved 2 April 2010
  4. Tingley, J.V.; Pizarro, K.A. (2000), Traveling America's loneliest road: a geologic and natural history tour, Nevada Bureau of Mines and Geology Special Publication, 26, Nevada Bureau of Mines and Geology, p. 132, ISBN 978-1-888035-05-6, retrieved 2010-04-02

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