Apparent late quaternary fault-slip rate increase in the southern lower Rhine Graben, central Europe

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Abstract

In regions of low strain, long earthquake recurrence intervals (104-106 yrs) and erosive processes limit preservation of Quaternary markers suitable for distinguishing whether faults slip at uniform or secularly varying rates. The Lower Rhine graben in the border region of Germany, The Netherlands, and Belgium provides a unique opportunity to explore Quaternary slip-rate variations in a region of low strain using the basal (2.29 ± 0.29 Ma) and surface (700 ± 80 ka) contacts of the regionally extensive main terrace (“Hauptterrasse”), deposited by the Rhine and Maas Rivers. These surfaces are vertically offset 3-140 m and 0-68 m, respectively, across individual fault strands within a distributed network of northwest-trending, slow-slipping (<0.1 mm/yr) normal faults. In this investigation, we construct Quaternary slip histories for the southern Lower Rhine graben faults using new main terrace surface vertical offset measurements made from light detection and ranging (lidar)-derived bare-earth digital terrain models, which we synthesize with existing constraints on the offset basal contact of this fluvial deposit (n > 91 collocated sites with displacement constraints). We find that >80% of the sites record an apparent increase in slip rate for the more recent interval from 700 ka to present, which corresponds to a period of increased uplift of the nearby Rhenish Massif and regional volcanism. However, the apparent increase in slip rate could result, in part, from erosion of the footwall surface below the main terrace, leading to an apparent displacement that is smaller than the total vertical offset since the start of the Quaternary. Prior work focused on characterization of these faults as seismic sources in the Lower Rhine graben has preferentially relied on the average fault-slip rate constrained using the base of the main terrace. We suggest that average fault-slip rates calculated using the ~700 ka main terrace surface are subjected to fewer uncertainties and sample a time interval that is more relevant for seismic-hazard analysis.

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Gold, R. D., Friedrich, A., Kübler, S., & Salamon, M. (2017). Apparent late quaternary fault-slip rate increase in the southern lower Rhine Graben, central Europe. Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America, 107(2), 563–580. https://doi.org/10.1785/0120160197

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