Active tectonics and earthquake hazards in continental mountain ranges and foreland basins

Change log

The regions adjacent to tectonically active mountain belts are exposed to significant earthquake hazard, since the range-bounding faults produce large earthquakes, and the underlying geological structure amplifies the resulting ground shaking. The aim of this dissertation is to investigate the regional-scale controls on earthquake ground motions and seismic hazard in these settings.

The first part of this dissertation describes models of the seismic wavefield produced by thrust-faulting earthquakes on mountain range fronts. The earthquake source characteristics and foreland basin structure were varied within reasonable geological bounds, and the earthquake-induced ground shaking was calculated. The earthquake source parameters were determined to be the dominant control on the amount of near-source ground shaking. However, the foreland basin structure, in particular the basin depth relative to the dominant wavelength of the seismic waves, determines the importance of dispersion as the waves propagate through the basin. These results highlight the importance of accurately determining earthquake source characteristics (particularly depth), and the underlying geological structure, during hazard assessment.

These principles were then applied to study the active tectonics and seismic hazard in the north-west Himalayas. Field, satellite, and seismological observations were used to determine the fault geometry beneath the NW Himalayas and investigate the relationship between thrust faulting and folding. These results were used to construct seismic-wavefield models, to determine earthquake ground motion estimates if the Main Himalayan Thrust in the region were to rupture. These models show that peak ground velocities are extremely sensitive to minor variations in the fault geometry.

Finally, the earthquake-induced building damage in foreland basins was investigated. Using seismic-wavefield modelling, alongside fragility curves for generic building types, the relationships between earthquake location, characteristics, and building damage were investigated. The results quantify the previously poorly known trade-off between earthquake location and magnitude in determining damage distributions. Additionally, the results quantify the factors that can cause over- or under-estimates of the magnitudes of historical earthquakes based on reported damage distributions, with important implications for understanding the accumulated slip deficit in continental collision zones.

Copley, Alexander
Earthquake Ground Motions, Earthquake Hazards, Foreland Basins, Himalayas, Mountains, Seismic-Wave-Propagation Modelling, Seismology, Tectonics
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Awarding Institution
University of Cambridge
Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (2117461)
EPSRC iCASE PhD Studentship co-sponsored by Arup Group Limited. The fieldwork undertaken as part of Chapter 4 was funded by the Royal Society International Collaboration Award ICA/R1/180234.