Evidence for Holocene palaeoseismicity along the Basel–Reinach active normal fault (Switzerland): a seismic source for the 1356 earthquake in the Upper Rhine graben


Now at: Géosciences Azur, Université de Nice, 06000 Nice, France.


We conducted a palaeoseismic study with geomorphologic mapping, geophysical prospecting and trenching along an 8-km-long NNE–SSW trending fault scarp south of Basel. The city as well as 40 castles within a 20-km radius were destroyed or heavily damaged by the earthquake of 1356 October 18 (Io = IX-X), the largest historical seismic event in central Europe. Active river incisions as well as late Quaternary alluvial terraces are uplifted along the linear Basel–Reinach (BR) fault scarp. The active normal fault is comprised of at least two main branches reaching the surface as evident by resistivity profiles, reflection seismic data and direct observations in six trenches. In trenches, the normal fault rupture affects three colluvial wedge deposits up to the base of the modern soil. Radiocarbon as well as thermoluminescence (TL) age determinations from other trenches helped to reconstruct the Holocene event chronology. We identified three seismic events with an average coseismic movement of 0.5–0.8 m and a total vertical displacement of 1.8 m in the last 7800 yr and five events in the last 13 200 yr. The most recent event occurred in the interval ad 500–1450 (2σ) and may correspond to the 1356 earthquake. Furthermore, the morphology suggests both a southern and northern fault extensions that may reach 20 km across the Jura mountains and across the Rhine valley. Taking this fault length and a 10-km-thick seismogenic layer suggests a Mw 6.5 or greater event as a possible scenario for the seismic hazard assessment of the Basel region.