The Seymareh rock avalanche, first described by J. V. Harrison and N. L. Falcon in the 1930s, is the largest known subaerial non-volcanic landslide on Earth. The volume of its debris (44 Gm3) is approximately equal to that of the largest known subaerial landslide of any kind, the 100 ka collapse of Mount Shasta volcano (45 Gm3) and approaches those of gigantic landslides on Mars. Using satellite imagery, SRTM-3 data, and detailed field investigations, we gain a new understanding of the gigantic rock avalanche. The initial failure (38 Gm3), involving a dip slope consisting of a relatively weak interbedded limestone–mudrock sequence capped by resistant Asmari Limestone, had an average thickness of 410 m along a 15.5 km width of the Kabir Kuh anticline. The rockslide transformed into a rock avalanche that travelled 19.0 km with a fahrböschung (the angle between the highest point of the pre-landslide source area topography and the distal limit of the debris) of only 3.6°. Initial failure involved complex planar sliding dictated by four structural elements: (1) bedding-parallel shears and (2) across-bedding break-throughs combined to produce a low-angle (11°) overall sliding surface that (3) broke out through the Asmari carapace at the toe of the failed slope while (4) tectonically weakened bedding-normal joints provided lateral release surfaces. Nine discrete bedding-parallel basal sliding surfaces divided the detached mass into nine stacked plates. The upper plate (23 Gm3) included 20.7 Gm3 of Asmari Limestone. Analysis of accelerator mass spectrometry radiocarbon dates from this study and by others indicates that the rock avalanche occurred between c. 8710 and 9800 14C years BP.

Supplementary material:

A summary of the tectonics, stratigraphy and physiography of the Zagros Fold–Thrust belt together with a description of surficial gravity collapse structures in the region (Harrison & Falcon 1934, 1936) is available at www.geolsoc.org.uk/SUP18612.

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