Journal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth

Riser diachroneity, lateral erosion, and uncertainty in rates of strike-slip faulting: A case study from Tuzidun along the Altyn Tagh Fault, NW China



[1] At late Quaternary timescales, offset fluvial terrace risers are among the most common landforms used to determine rates of strike-slip faulting. Although diachroneity in the age of riser segments on opposite sides of the fault has been noted previously, an unexplored source of uncertainty associated with deriving slip rates from these markers centers on quantifying the size of the displacement uncertainty such diachroneity introduces. To evaluate the impact of riser diachroneity, we investigated the Tuzidun site (37.73°N, 86.72°E) along the Cherchen He reach of the active central Altyn Tagh Fault. The east bank of the channel is flanked by a left-laterally offset terrace riser. While the measured offset is 54 ± 3 m, geochronologic measurements and analysis of riser topography indicate that the downstream riser segment formed between 6.0 ± 0.8 ka and 5.7 ± 0.4 ka, while the upstream riser segment may have been laterally refreshed as recently as 0.5 ± 0.2 ka. A valley wall on the west bank of the channel places a maximum limit of 38 ± 6 m on the amount of possible lateral erosion of the upstream riser. This bound, in turn, limits the total offset since formation of the downstream riser to range from 54 ± 3 to 89 ± 7 m. Together, these observations bracket the millennial Altyn Tagh Fault slip rate to range from 9.0 ± 1.3 to 15.5 ± 1.7 mm a−1. More generally, this investigation shows that the observed riser displacement does not necessarily correlate with the age of either riser segment (downstream or upstream of the fault) in cases where one segment is displaced while the other is subjected to lateral erosion. If this diachroneity goes undetected, erroneous slip rate measurements are likely to result.