Abstract

How convergent systems distribute strain among frontal thrusts is a major concern regarding seismic hazard assessment. Along the 2500 km Himalayan arc, the seismic behavior of the Bhutan region is unknown, because it corresponds to the only portion of the arc where no evidence of major earthquakes has been reported. This can be due either to the fact that no active tectonic studies have been conducted or to continental shortening being absorbed by the Shillong plateau 150 km farther south. Analyzing offset fluvial terraces in south-central Bhutan shows that two major earthquakes ruptured the Himalayan frontal thrust during the last millennium, and that a comparable rate of Holocene deformation (∼20 mm/yr) is accommodated across the Himalaya in Bhutan as in central Nepal. Thus, the propensity for great earthquakes in Bhutan is similar to what is observed in neighboring portions of the Himalaya arc. This in turn suggests that the shortening process beneath the Shillong plateau has little effect on how strain accumulates within the Bhutanese Himalaya.

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