Journal of Seismology

, Volume 14, Issue 3, pp 615–628 | Cite as

Evidence for a Tang-Song Dynasty great earthquake along the Longmen Shan Thrust Belt prior to the 2008 M w 7.9 Wenchuan earthquake, China

  • Aiming LinEmail author
  • Zhikun Ren
  • Dong Jia
  • Yosuke Miyairi
Original Article


The magnitude (M w) 7.9 Wenchuan earthquake occurred on 12 May 2008 in the Longmen Shan region of China, the transition zone between the Tibetan Plateau and the Sichuan Basin, resulting in widespread damage throughout central and western China. The steep, high-relief eastern margin of the Tibetan Plateau has undergone rapid Cenozoic uplift and denudation accompanied by folding and thrusting, yet no large thrust earthquakes are known prior to the 2008 M w 7.9 Wenchuan earthquake. Field and excavation investigations reveal that a great historical earthquake occurred in the Sichuan region that ruptured a >200-km-long thrust fault within the Longmen Shan Thrust Belt, China, which also triggered the 2008 M w 7.9 Wenchuan earthquake. The average co-seismic slip amount produced by this historical earthquake is estimated to be 2–3 m, comparable with that caused by the 2008 Wenchuan earthquake. Paleoseismic and archaeological evidence and radiocarbon dating results show that the penultimate great earthquake occurred in the Sichuan region during the late Tang-Song Dynasty, between AD 800 and 1000, suggesting a recurrence interval of ~1,000–1,200 years for Wenchuan-magnitude (M = ~8) earthquakes in the late Holocene within the Longmen Shan Thrust Belt. This finding is in contrast with previous estimates of 2,000–10,000 years for the recurrence interval of large earthquakes within the Longmen Shan Thrust Belt, as obtained from long-term slip rates based on the Global Positioning System and geological data, thereby necessitating substantial modifications to existing seismic-hazard models for the densely populated region at the eastern marginal zone of the Tibetan Plateau.


2008 Mw 7.9 Wenchuan earthquake Historical earthquake Longmen Shan Thrust Belt Tibetan Plateau Tang-Song Dynasty 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Burchfiel BC, Chen Z, Liu Y, Royden LH (1995) Tectonics of the Longmen Shan and adjacent regions, central China. Int Geol Rev 37:661–735CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Burchfiel BC, Royden LH, van der Hilst RD, Hager BH (2008) A geological and geophysical context for the Wenchuan earthquake of 12 May 2008, Sichuan, People’s Republic of China. GSA Today 18:4–11CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Caputo RJ (2005) Ground effects of large morphogenic earthquake. J Geodyn 40:113–118CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Chen Z, Burchfiel BC, Liu Y, King RW, Royden LH, Tang W, Wang E, Zhao J, Zhan X (2000) Global positioning system measurements from eastern Tibet and their implications for India/Eurasia intercontinental deformation. J Geophys Res 105:16215–16228CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. China Earthquake Networks Center (CENC) (2008) Rupture process of the 2008 Ms 8.0 Wenchuan earthquake. Accessed 26 June 2009
  6. Deng Q, Chen S, Zhao X (1994) Tectonics, seismicity, and dynamics of the Longmen Shan Mountains and its adjacent regions. Seismol Geol 16:389–403 (in Chinese)Google Scholar
  7. Densmore AL, Ellis MA, Li Y, Zhou R, Hancock GS, Richardson N (2007) Active tectonics of the Beichuan and Pengguan faults at the eastern margin of the Tibetan Plateau. Tectonics 26:TC4005CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Editorial Board, Annals of Sichuan Province (EBASP) (1998) Annals of Sichuan Province: annals of earthquake. Sichuan People Press, Chengdu, China, p 382Google Scholar
  9. Editorial Board, State Seismological Bureau (EBSSB) (1989) Lithospheric dynamics atlas of China. China Cartographic Publishing House, Beijing, p 23Google Scholar
  10. Harvard University (2008) Global CMT catalog, 200805120628A Eastern Sichuan, China. Accessed 3 Feb 2009
  11. Jia D, Wei G, Chen Z, Li B, Zeng Q, Yang G (2006) Longmen Shan fold–thrust belt and its relation to the western Sichuan Basin in central China: new insights from hydrocarbon exploration. AAPG Bull 90:1435–1447CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Jia D, Li Y, Lin A, Wang M, Chen W, Wu X, Ren Z, Zhao Y, Luo L (2010) Structural model of Mw 7.9 Wenchuan earthquake in the rejuvenated Longmen Shan thrust belt. Tectonophysics. doi: 10.1016/j.tecto.2009.08.040 Google Scholar
  13. Kirby E, Whipple K, Burchfiel BC, Tang W, Berger G, Sun Z, Chen Z (2000) Neotectonics of the Min Shan, China: implications for mechanisms driving Quaternary deformation along the eastern margin of the Tibetan Plateau. Geol Soc Amer Bull 112:375–393CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Li Y, Zhou R, Densmore AL, Ellis MA et al (2006) Continental dynamics and geological responses of the eastern margin of Qinghai-Tibet Plateau. Geological Press, Beijing, p 148, in Chinese with English abstractGoogle Scholar
  15. Li Y-Q, Jia D, Shaw JH, Hubbard J, Lin A, Wang M, Luo L, Li H, Wu L (2010) Structural interpretation of the co-seismic faults of the Wenchuan earthquake: 3D modeling of the Longmen Shan fold-and-thrust belt. J Geophys Res (in press)Google Scholar
  16. Lin A, Ren Z (2009) The great Wenchuan earthquake of 2008—a photographic atlas of surface rupture and related disaster. Springer, Berlin, p 121Google Scholar
  17. Lin A, Ouchi T, Chen A, Maruyama T (2001) Co-seismic displacements, folding and shortening structures along the Chelungpu surface rupture zone occurred during the 1999 Chi-Chi (Taiwan) earthquake. Tectonophysics 330:225–244CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Lin A, Fu B, Guo J, Zeng Q, Dang G, He W, Zhao Y (2002) Co-seismic strike-slip and rupture length produced by the 2001 Ms 8.1 Central Kunlun earthquake. Science 296:2015–2017CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Lin A, Kikuchi M, Fu B (2003) Rupture segmentation and process of the 2001 Mw 7.8 Central Kunlun earthquake, China. Bull Seismol Soc Am 93:2477–2492CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Lin A, Guo J, Fu B (2004) Co-seismic mole-track structures produced by the 2001 Ms 8.1 Central Kunlun earthquake, China. J Struct Geol 26:1511–1519CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Lin A, Ren Z, Jia D, Wu X (2008) Reports on the co-seismic surface rupture and related disasters associated with the Mw 7.9 Wenchuan earthquake, China. J Geogr 117:593–598CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Lin A, Ren Z, Jia D, Wu X (2009) Co-seismic thrusting rupture and slip distribution produced by the 2008 MW7.9 Wenchuan earthquake, China. Tectonophysics 47:203–215CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Lin A, Ren Z, Jia D (2010) Co-seismic ground-shortening structures produced by the 2008 MW7.9 Wenchuan earthquake, China. Tectonophysics. doi: 10.1016/j.tecto.2009.10.027 Google Scholar
  24. Meade BJ (2007) Present-day kinematics at the India–Asia collision zone. Geology 35:81–84CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Ren Z, Lin A (2010) Co-seismic landslides induced by the 2008 Wenchuan Mw 7.9 earthquake, revealed by ALOS PRISM and AVNIR2 imagery data. Int J Remote Sens, (in press)Google Scholar
  26. Royden LH, Burchfiel BC, King RW, Wang E, Chen Z, Shen F, Liu Y (1997) Surface deformation and lower crustal flow in eastern Tibet. Science 276:788–790CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Shen Z, Lu L, Wang M, Burgmann R (2005) Contemporary crustal deformation around the southeast borderland of the Tibetan Plateau. J Geophys Res 110:1–17CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Stuiver M, Reimer PJ, Reimer R (2003) CALIB Radiocarbon Calibration Version 4.4. Accessed 20 January 2009
  29. United States Geological Survey (USGS) (2008) Magnitude 7.9 Eastern Sichuan, China. Accessed 26 June 2009
  30. Wang Q, Qian X, Wang M, You X, Freymueller JT (2008) GPS-derived co-seismic deformation associated with the 12 May 2008 Wenchuan earthquake. Eos Trans, AGU, 89(53), Fall Meeting, Suppl. Abstract G33C-0716Google Scholar
  31. Xie Y, Cai M (1987) Compilation of historical materials of Chinese earthquake. Seismological Press, Beijing, p 1427, in ChineseGoogle Scholar
  32. Yeats RS, Sieh K, Allen CR (1997) The geology of earthquakes. Oxford University Press, Oxford, p 568Google Scholar
  33. Zhang P, Shen Z, Wang M, Gan W, Burgmann R, Molnar P, Wang Q, Niu Z, Sun J, Wu J, Sun H, You X (2004) Continuous deformation of the Tibetan Plateau from global positioning system data. Geology 32:9809–9812Google Scholar
  34. Zhang P, Xu X, Wen X et al (2008) Slip rate and recurrence interval of Longmen Shan active fault zone, and tectonic implications for the mechanism of the May 12, 2008 Wenchuan earthquake, Sichuan, China. Chin J Geophys 51:1066–1073Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Aiming Lin
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Zhikun Ren
    • 1
  • Dong Jia
    • 3
  • Yosuke Miyairi
    • 4
  1. 1.Graduate School of Science and TechnologyShizuoka UniversityShizuokaJapan
  2. 2.Institute of Geosciences, Faculty of ScienceShizuoka UniversityShizuokaJapan
  3. 3.Department of Earth SciencesNanjing UniversityNanjingChina
  4. 4.Department of Nuclear Engineering and Management, Graduate School of EngineeringUniversity of TokyoTokyoJapan

Personalised recommendations