An embryonic fold and thrust belt south of the Himalayan morphological front: Examples from the Central Nepal and Darjeeling piedmonts

Article Type

Research Article

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Earth-Science Reviews


The morphological boundary between the Himalayas and the foreland plain is well expressed and most often corresponds to the frontal emergence of the Main Himalayan Thrust (MHT). This boundary is affected by surface ruptures during very large Himalayan earthquakes (Mw > 8) that regularly induce (with a recurrence of the order of 500 to 1200 years) the uplift of the foothills relative to the plain. However, a thrust-fold system is hidden beneath the plain and is displayed by the seismic profiles of oil companies in east/central Nepal and by H/V passive geophysical techniques in Darjeeling. Its long-term kinematic evolution is slow, with a tectonic uplift of the hanging wall that is lower than the subsidence rate of the foreland basin, that is, less than approximately half a millimetre per year. During phases of low sedimentation controlled by climatic fluctuations, the morphological surfaces of the piedmont are incised by large rivers for several tens of metres; therefore, structures hidden under the sediments emerge slightly in the plain. The evolution of the hidden structures corresponds to an embryonic thrust belt mainly affected by a long-term shortening rate of 1.4 +2.5/−1.2 mm·yr−1, that is, 2–20% of the shortening rate of the entire Himalayan thrust system. Nonetheless, the details of the deformation associated with the embryonic thrust belt are still poorly understood. Several deformation components could affect the central Himalayan and Darjeeling piedmonts. i) Any slow steady-state deformation, such as layer parallel shortening (LPS) is not detected by Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) data, and such deformation would therefore absorb less than 0.5 mm·yr−1. The geodetic data that suggest the aseismic growth of some of the structures are highly controversial. ii) For the rest of the deformation of the embryonic thrust wedge, it is yet to be proven whether deformation occurs during rare great earthquakes affecting the piedmont during medium earthquakes and/or during post-seismic deformation related to great earthquakes. The amplitude of this long-term low deformation is too limited to significantly reduce the seismic hazard in the seismic gaps of the Himalayan belt. iii) In some portions of the Himalayan front, such as Darjeeling (India), the thrust deformation related to great earthquakes propagates several tens of kilometres south of the morphological front in the zone previously affected by the long-term low deformation. It induces multi-metre surface ruptures in the piedmont and a mean shortening of 8.5 ± 6.2 mm·yr−1. iiii) Pre-existing faults in the bedrock of the Indian craton, often oblique to the Himalayan structures, are locally reactivated beneath the foreland plain with low deformation rates.



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Open Access, Bronze, Green

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