Historical coseismic surface deformation of fluvial gravel deposits, Schafberg fault, Lower Rhine Graben, Germany

Abstract

Intraplate earthquakes pose a significant seismic hazard in densely populated rift systems like the Lower Rhine Graben in Central Europe. While the locations of most faults in this region are well known, constraints on their seismogenic potential and earthquake recurrence are limited. In particular, the Holocene deformation history of active faults remains enigmatic. In an exposure excavated across the Schafberg fault in the southwestern Lower Rhine Graben, south of Untermaubach, in the epicentral region of the 1756 Düren earthquake (M L 6.2), we mapped a complex deformation zone in Holocene fluvial sediments. We document evidence for at least one paleoearthquake that resulted in vertical surface displacement of 1.2 ± 0.2 m. The most recent earthquake is constrained to have occurred after 815 AD, and we have modeled three possible earthquake scenarios constraining the timing of the latest event. Coseismic deformation is characterized by vertical offset of sedimentary contacts distributed over a 10-m-wide central damage zone. Faults were identified where they fracture and offset pebbles in the vertically displaced gravel layers and fracture orientation is consistent with the orientation of the Schafberg fault. This study provides the first constraint on the most recent surface-rupturing earthquake on the Schafberg fault. We cannot rule out that this fault acted as the source of the 1756 Düren earthquake. Our study emphasizes the importance of, and the need for, paleoseismic studies in this and other intracontinental regions, in particular on faults with subtle geomorphic expression that would not typically be recognized as being potentially seismically active. Our study documents textural features in unconsolidated sediment that formed in response to coseismic rupturing of the underlying bedrock fault. We suggest that these features, e.g., abundant oriented transgranular fractures in their context, should be added to the list of criteria used to identify a fault as potentially active. Such information would result in an increase of the number of potentially active faults that contribute to seismic hazards of intracontinental regions.

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Acknowledgements

We are grateful for assistance during trench logging provided by Amir Abolghasem, Ramona Baran, Sara Carena, Markus Hoffmann and Stefanie Rieger. We thank Mariano Graf von Spee and Josef Erkens for permitting us to carry out excavation work on their farmland. We thank Christoph Grützner, Klaus Hinzen, Klaus Lehmann, Klaus Reicherter, Martin Salamon, Kris Vanneste, Koen Verbeeck, and Roland Walter for constructive discussions in the field during analysis of deformed sediments. This manuscript greatly benefitted from constructive reviews by Mark Quigley, Christopher DuRoss and an anonymous reviewer. The Untermaubach study site has been selected within the framework of the SAFE Project (Slow Active Faults of Europe) funded by the European Research Council, EU Project No. 2000.220055, awarded to M. Strecker. Trench excavation was funded by DFG-Project (German Science Foundation) ‘Active intraplate deformation in central Europe: Paleoseismology of the Lower Rhine Graben’ Granted to A. Friedrich (DFG FR 1673) and M. Strecker (DFG STR 373-18/3). The airborne LiDAR data were kindly provided by the Geodatenzentrum NRW (© Geobasis NRW 2010). Any use of trade, product, or firm names is for descriptive purposes only and does not imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.

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Kübler, S., Friedrich, A.M., Gold, R.D. et al. Historical coseismic surface deformation of fluvial gravel deposits, Schafberg fault, Lower Rhine Graben, Germany. Int J Earth Sci (Geol Rundsch) 107, 571–585 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00531-017-1510-9

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Keywords

  • Paleoseismology
  • Intraplate earthquakes
  • Earthquake hazards
  • Coseismic rupture
  • Central Europe