Abstract

The Elat fault system in the southern Arava Valley (Dead Sea rift, Israel) is a complex fault zone, characterized by marginal normal faults and central sinistral strike- slip faults. Paleoseismic evidence shows that the Elat fault system has generated at least 15 earthquakes of magnitudes (M) larger than 6 during the late Pleistocene and the Holocene. At least two branches of the fault zone were tectonically active simultaneously, indicating that the seismic response over a period of 80 k.y. was time and space dependent. Late Pleistocene earthquakes displaced the surface by 1–1.5 m; their magnitudes were between M 6.7 and M 7, and their average recurrence interval was 2.8 ± 0.7 k.y. Movements along the fault system in the Holocene had a higher frequency and a recurrence interval of 1.2 ± 0.3 k.y., but resulted in smaller displacement amounts (0.2–1.3 m) and smaller earthquake magnitudes (M 5.9–M 6.7). Historical records document the last seismic event along the Elat fault zone at ∼1000 yr ago. The decrease in tectonic activity with time is inferred from the concentration of offset along the fault segments in the central part of the Elat fault zone and the decreased seismicity in the eastern and western margins. The magnitude range determined for the central zone (M 6.1–M 6.7) was likely not high enough to activate the marginal faults. The average slip rate on the normal faults is 0.2 mm/yr. However, the slip rate has changed through time on different fault segments in the active wide shear zone and between clusters of events related to the same segment. The event-specific slip rates, therefore, have varied from 0.1 to 0.3 mm/ yr. The decrease in earthquake magnitudes with time, combined with the observations that the last large event occurred in A.D. 1068 and that no microseismicity has been detected during the past 15 yr, might signal locking of the Elat fault zone. This effect, if true, may result from episodic global reorganization of the system's mode of strain- energy release, reflected in the configurational entropy of stress states on the fault. These results have significant implications for seismic hazard assessment in the southern Arava Valley, southern Israel, and underscore the possibility that the Elat fault may be a site of major earthquakes in the near future.

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