Monday, June 20, 2016

Nepal Earthquake Aftermath- What Is Happening Underneath Kathmandu?

We continue to learn more about the buildup and release of strain along the master detachment fault underneath the Himalaya. The master detachment fault known as the Main Himalayan Thrust is the surface along which the Indian plate is sliding underneath Asia.

This data using GPS records of surface motion in the area affected by the 2015 Gorkha (Nepal) earthquake:

Himalayan strain reservoir inferred from limited afterslip following the Gorkha earthquake -David Mencin et al 2016 (behind paywall)

The magnitude 7.8 Gorkha earthquake in April 2015 ruptured a 150-km-long section of the Himalayan d├ęcollement terminating close to Kathmandu. The earthquake failed to rupture the surface Himalayan frontal thrusts and raised concern that a future Mw ≤ 7.3 earthquake could break the unruptured region to the south and west of Kathmandu. Here we use GPS records of surface motions to show that no aseismic slip occurred on the ruptured fault plane in the six months immediately following the earthquake. We find that although 70 mm of afterslip occurred locally north of the rupture, fewer than 25 mm of afterslip occurred in a narrow zone to the south. Rapid initial afterslip north of the rupture was largely complete in six months, releasing aseismic-moment equivalent to a Mw 7.1 earthquake. Historical earthquakes in 1803, 1833, 1905 and 1947 also failed to rupture the Himalayan frontal faults, and were not followed by large earthquakes to their south. This implies that significant relict heterogeneous strain prevails throughout the Main Himalayan Thrust. The considerable slip during great Himalayan earthquakes may be due in part to great earthquakes tapping reservoirs of residual strain inherited from former partial ruptures of the Main Himalayan Thrust.

The Himalaya cross section below shows seismicity along the interface of the Indian plate boundary faults.  MFT is the Main Frontal Thrust, MBT is the Main Boundary Thrust and MCT is the Main Central Thrust. These south younging sequence of thrust faults are thought to absorb the crustal shortening in the Himalayas. The youngest, the Main Frontal Thrust is thought to be active today, i.e. great earthquakes that nucleate underneath the Himalaya, rupture the surface along this fault system. All these thrusts faults are inferred to be splays of the Main Himalayan Thrust. Red and Orange dots are instrumentally recorded earthquakes.


Source: Bollinger et al 2014: Estimating the return times of great Himalayan earthquakes in eastern Nepal: Evidence from the Patu and Bardibas strands of the Main Frontal Thrust

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