Convergence rate across the Nepal Himalaya and interseismic coupling on the Main Himalayan Thrust: Implications for seismic hazard

Thomas Ader, Jean Philippe Avouac, Jing Liu-Zeng, Hélène Lyon-Caen, Laurent Bollinger, John Galetzka, Jeff Genrich, Marion Thomas, Kristel Chanard, Soma Nath Sapkota, Sudhir Rajaure, Prithvi Shrestha, Lin Ding, Mireille Flouzat

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We document geodetic strain across the Nepal Himalaya using GPS times series from 30 stations in Nepal and southern Tibet, in addition to previously published campaign GPS points and leveling data and determine the pattern of interseismic coupling on the Main Himalayan Thrust fault (MHT). The noise on the daily GPS positions is modeled as a combination of white and colored noise, in order to infer secular velocities at the stations with consistent uncertainties. We then locate the pole of rotation of the Indian plate in the ITRF 2005 reference frame at longitude = -1.34°±3.31°, latitude = 51.4°±0.3° with an angular velocity of Ω =0.5029±0.0072°/Myr. The pattern of coupling on the MHT is computed on a fault dipping 10° to the north and whose strike roughly follows the arcuate shape of the Himalaya. The model indicates that the MHT is locked from the surface to a distance of approximately 100km down dip, corresponding to a depth of 15 to 20km. In map view, the transition zone between the locked portion of the MHT and the portion which is creeping at the long term slip rate seems to be at the most a few tens of kilometers wide and coincides with the belt of midcrustal microseismicity underneath the Himalaya. According to a previous study based on thermokinematic modeling of thermochronological and thermobarometric data, this transition seems to happen in a zone where the temperature reaches 350°C. The convergence between India and South Tibet proceeds at a rate of 17.8±0.5 mm/yr in central and eastern Nepal and 20.5±1 mm/yr in western Nepal. The moment deficit due to locking of the MHT in the interseismic period accrues at a rate of 6.6±0.4×10 19 Nm/yr on the MHT underneath Nepal. For comparison, the moment released by the seismicity over the past 500years, including 14 M W≥ 7 earthquakes with moment magnitudes up to 8.5, amounts to only 0.9×1019 Nm/yr, indicating a large deficit of seismic slip over that period or very infrequent large slow slip events. No large slow slip event has been observed however over the 20years covered by geodetic measurements in the Nepal Himalaya. We discuss the magnitude and return period of M > 8 earthquakes required to balance the long term slip budget on the MHT.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberB04403
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 1 Apr 2012


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