Neotectonic and palaeoseismological studies in the southwest of Western Australia

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    Abstract

    [Truncated abstract] The southwest of Western Australia is an intraplate area classified as a stable continental region. It comprises predominantly Archaean and Proterozoic geology and has generally subdued topography. The region currently experiences significant seismicity in the Southwest Seismic Zone (SWSZ), which is one of the most seismically active areas in Australia and is thought to represent the highest seismic hazard of the region. In recent years, numerous scarps, potentially related to large palaeoearthquakes have been recognised not only within the SWSZ, but also in a broader region of the southwest of Australia. Palaeoseismological investigations of two of these scarps, the Dumbleyung and the Lort River scarps, confirm their association with surface-rupturing palaeoearthquakes and indicate events with likely maximum magnitudes of ~Mw 7.0 on faults of low to medium slip rates. Two trenches across the Dumbleyung Fault scarp revealed a thrust fault in alluvial sediments with two associated earthquakes in the last ca 24-60 ka. A possible Holocene age was recognised for the last recorded earthquake event exposed in these trenches. Two trenches across the Lort River Scarp show that this feature results from thrust faulting in the weathered gneissic country rock. These trenches exposed evidence of two events in the last ca 35 ka, with a likely late Pleistocene age for the last earthquake. On both sites, the earthquakes are interpreted as associated with the last phase of fault activity, which was likely been preceded by a long period of quiescence. Assessment of the earthquake hazard associated with large earthquakes at the Dumbleyung and Lort River Faults resulted in calculated peak ground accelerations of up to 2 g in the near-fault fields. Such earthquakes would significantly affect nearby towns such as Dumbleyung, Wagin, Katanning, and Esperance, but they are unlikely to cause any significant damage in Perth. The palaeoseismological investigations show that the earthquake activity in the southwest of Western Australia is not only confined to the SWSZ, as it has been considered in previous assessments of the seismic hazard, but that there is also potential for strong earthquakes across much of the region. The seismicity in the southwest of Western Australia appears to be transient and migratory. This is suggested by the lack of local relief associated with places of current seismicity and fault scarps, the widespread distribution of the fault scarps across the region, the increase in seismicity in the SWSZ following strong recent events, and the apparent long periods of earthquake recurrence at fault sites. Accordingly, the current seismicity in the SWSZ is inferred to be transient and probably associated with stress changes produced by the recent earthquakes. '...' This uplift could be associated with dynamic topography effects resulting from processes along the plate margins. The uplift is probably enhanced by a flexural response of the lithosphere to local differential loads and density contrast along the southern margin, a mechanism that may also help explain the occurrence of some earthquake activity. The results from this study, complemented by additional palaeoseismological studies must be included in future probabilistic assessments of the seismic hazard of the southwest of Western Australia.
    Original languageEnglish
    QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
    Publication statusUnpublished - 2008

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