Abstract

In the present study, about 356 local earthquakes in the region of the Sikkim Himalaya have been accurately located and analyzed using 2181 P travel times and 2161 S travel times from a network of 11 broadband seismic stations operated by the National Geophysical Research Institute during January 2006 to November 2007. Further refinement of the hypocentral parameters using the hypoDD relocation program resulted in 198 well-constrained locations. Interestingly, this study reveals several characteristic features that distinguish Sikkim from the rest of the Himalaya. The seismicity distribution is found to be confined mostly between the main boundary thrust (MBT) and the main central thrust (MCT) but not quite associated with either. While the entire Himalayan front is generally characterized by shallow-angle thrust faulting, focal mechanisms in this region are predominantly of strike-slip type in conformity with a right-lateral strike-slip mechanism along the northwest-trending Tista and Gangtok lineaments. The P-axis trends of earthquake focal mechanisms are clearly oriented north-northwest, marking a clear transition from the ambient north-northeast trending direction of Indian plate motion with respect to the Eurasian plate all along the Himalayan front. Moderate-sized earthquakes occur down to 70 km depth in this region, compared to an average focal depth of 15–20 km in the rest of the Himalaya. Also, a high average crustal P velocity of 6.66 km/sec and a fairly low b value of 0.83±0.04 are obtained indicating the probability of occurrence of a higher magnitude earthquake in the future. A north–south section in the Sikkim region shows a relatively flat topography, unlike in the rest of the Himalayan mountain chain and suggestive of lower rates of convergence in the recent geologic past. It is proposed that crustal shortening in the Sikkim Himalaya has been substantially accommodated by transverse tectonics rather than underthrusting in recent times.

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