Collision of the Ganges-Brahmaputra Delta with the Burma Arc: Implications for earthquake hazard

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Earth and Planetary Science Letters
Journal Date: 
Sep 15
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We take a fresh look at the topography, structure and seismicity of the Ganges-Brahmaputra Delta (GBD)-Burma Arc collision zone in order to reevaluate the nature of the accretionary prism and its seismic potential. The GBD, the world's largest delta, has been built from sediments eroded from the Himalayan collision. These sediments prograded the continental margin of the Indian subcontinent by similar to 400 km, forming a huge sediment pile that is now entering the Burma Arc subduction zone. Subduction of oceanic lithosphere with >20 km sediment thickness is fueling the growth of an active accretionary prism exposed on land. The prism starts at an apex south of the GBD shelf edge at similar to 18 degrees N and widens northwards to form a broad triangle that may be up to 300 km wide at its northern limit. The front of the prism is blind, buried by the GBD sediments. Thus, the deformation front extends 100 km west of the surface fold belt beneath the Comilla Tract, which is uplifted by 3-4 m relative to the delta. This accretionary prism has the lowest surface slope of any active subduction zone. The gradient of the prism is only similar to 0.1 degrees, rising to similar to 0.5 degrees in the forearc region to the east. This low slope is consistent with the high level of overpressure found in the subsurface, and indicates a very weak detachment. Since its onset, the collision of the GBD and Burma Arc has expanded westward at similar to 2 cm/yr, and propagated southwards at similar to 5 cm/yr. Seismic hazard in the GBD is largely unknown. Intermediate-size earthquakes are associated with surface ruptures and fold growth in the external part of the prism. However, the possibility of large subduction ruptures has not been accounted for, and may be higher than generally believed. Although sediment-clogged systems are thought to not be able to sustain the stresses and strain-weakening behavior required for great earthquakes, some of the largest known earthquakes have occurred in heavily-sedimented subduction zones. A large earthquake in 1762 ruptured similar to 250 km of the southern part of the GBD, suggesting large earthquakes are possible there. A large, but poorly documented earthquake in 1548 damaged population centers at the northern and southern ends of the onshore prism, and is the only known candidate for a rupture of the plate boundary along the subaerial part of the GBD-Burma Arc collision zone. (C) 2008 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.


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DOI 10.1016/j.epsl.2008.07.009