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Stalagmite growth perturbations from the Kumaun Himalaya as potential earthquake recorders

Abstract

The central part of the Himalaya (Kumaun and Garhwal Provinces of India) is noted for its prolonged seismic quiescence, and therefore, developing a longer-term time series of past earthquakes to understand their recurrence pattern in this segment assumes importance. In addition to direct observations of offsets in stratigraphic exposures or other proxies like paleoliquefaction, deformation preserved within stalagmites (speleothems) in karst system can be analyzed to obtain continuous millennial scale time series of earthquakes. The Central Indian Himalaya hosts natural caves between major active thrusts forming potential storehouses for paleoseismological records. Here, we present results from the limestone caves in the Kumaun Himalaya and discuss the implications of growth perturbations identified in the stalagmites as possible earthquake recorders. This article focuses on three stalagmites from the Dharamjali Cave located in the eastern Kumaun Himalaya, although two other caves, one of them located in the foothills, were also examined for their suitability. The growth anomalies in stalagmites include abrupt tilting or rotation of growth axes, growth termination, and breakage followed by regrowth. The U-Th age data from three specimens allow us to constrain the intervals of growth anomalies, and these were dated at 4273 ± 410 years BP (2673–1853 BC), 2782 ± 79 years BP (851–693 BC), 2498 ± 117 years BP (605–371 BC), 1503 ± 245 years BP (262–752 AD), 1346 ± 101 years BP (563–765 AD), and 687 ± 147 years BP (1176–1470 AD). The dates may correspond to the timings of major/great earthquakes in the region and the youngest event (1176–1470 AD) shows chronological correspondence with either one of the great medieval earthquakes (1050–1250 and 1259–1433 AD) evident from trench excavations across the Himalayan Frontal Thrust.

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Acknowledgments

This work was funded by the Australia-India Strategic Research Fund. JS was supported by the fast track scheme under the Department of Science and Technology, Govt. of India (No. SR/FTP/TS-97/2009) and BSK by AvH Linkage Project (No. 3-4-FoKoop, 396 DEU/1017420) and Ministry of Earth Sciences, New Delhi. JS and CPR thank Tribhuvan Singh (Pithoragarh) for his assistance during multiple visits to the study site for sampling. This paper has improved considerably after thorough reviews by Katalin Gribovszki and Elisa Kagan, and we are grateful to both of them for their time, patience, and efforts.

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Correspondence to Jaishri Sanwal.

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Rajendran, C.P., Sanwal, J., Morell, K.D. et al. Stalagmite growth perturbations from the Kumaun Himalaya as potential earthquake recorders. J Seismol 20, 579–594 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10950-015-9545-5

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Keywords

  • Stalagmites
  • Speleoseismology
  • Earthquake recurrence
  • Central Indian Himalaya
  • Seismic gap