Active Tectonics Around Almaty and along the Zailisky Alatau Rangefront

22 Nov 2017

The Zailisky Alatau is a >250-km-long mountain range in Southern Kazakhstan. Its northern rangefront around the major city of Almaty has more than 4 km topographic relief, yet in contrast to other large mountain fronts in the Tien Shan, little is known about its Late Quaternary tectonic activity despite several destructive earthquakes in the historical record. We analyse the tectonic geomorphology of the rangefront fault using field observations, differential GPS measurements of fault scarps, historical and recent satellite imagery, metre-scale topography derived from stereo satellite images, and decimetre-scale elevation models from UAV surveys. Fault scarps ranging in height from ~2 m to >20 m in alluvial fans indicate surface rupturing earthquakes occurred along the rangefront fault since the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM). Minimum estimated magnitudes for those earthquakes are M6.8- 7. Radiocarbon dating results from charcoal layers in uplifted river terraces indicate a Holocene slip rate of ~1.2-2.2 mm/a. We find additional evidence for active tectonic deformation all along the Almaty rangefront, basinward in the Kazakh platform, and in the interior of the Zailisky mountain range. Our data indicate the seismic hazard faced by Almaty comes from a variety of sources, and we emphasize the problems related to urban growth into the loess-covered foothills and secondary earthquake effects. With our structural and geochronologic framework we present a schematic evolution of the Almaty rangefront that may be applicable to similar settings of tectonic shortening in the mountain ranges of Central Asia.