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Nature. 2001 Apr 12;410(6830):806-9.

Plateau 'pop-up' in the great 1897 Assam earthquake.

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CIRES & Geological Sciences, University of Colorado, Boulder, Colorado 80309-0399, USA.


The great Assam earthquake of 12 June 1897 reduced to rubble all masonry buildings within a region of northeastern India roughly the size of England, and was felt over an area exceeding that of the great 1755 Lisbon earthquake. Hitherto it was believed that rupture occurred on a north-dipping Himalayan thrust fault propagating south of Bhutan. But here we show that the northern edge of the Shillong plateau rose violently by at least 11 m during the Assam earthquake, and that this was due to the rupture of a buried reverse fault approximately 110 km in length and dipping steeply away from the Himalaya. The stress drop implied by the rupture geometry and the prodigious fault slip of 18 +/- 7 m explains epicentral accelerations observed to exceed 1g vertically and surface velocities exceeding 3 m s-1 (ref. 1). This quantitative observation of active deformation of a 'pop-up' structure confirms that faults bounding such structures can penetrate the whole crust. Plateau uplift in the past 2-5 million years has caused the Indian plate to contract locally by 4 +/- 2 mm yr-1, reducing seismic risk in Bhutan but increasing the risk in northern Bangladesh.


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