Active tectonics of the Gailatu–Tabriz strike-slip fault system, northwestern Iran

Document Type : Research Article


Department of Seismology, Institute of Geophysics, University of Tehran, Tehran, Iran.


Iran is a wide compressional deformation and seismic activity zone along the Alpine-Himalayan orogenic belt resulting from the conversion motion between the stable Arabian and Eurasian plates. Northwestern Iran is part of a complex tectonic system within the Arabia-Eurasia collision zone. The main active fault of northwestern Iran is the Gailatu–Tabriz strike-slip fault system (GTFS) that extends ~400 km in length from north of Mianeh (a town in the East-Azarbaijan province of Iran) to the southwest and south of Kaghsman (in Turkey) to the northwest. It has a conspicuous history of seismicity and a controlling role in the geodynamics of the region. In this study, we utilize satellite images, DEM images, field evidence, earthquake information, and GPS data, to investigate the active tectonic characteristics of the GTFS. From the southeast to the northwest, GTFS consists of three main fault zones, named: North Tabriz Fault, Mishu-Tasuj Fault, and Gailatu-Siah Cheshmeh-Khoy Fault. Near Kaghsman, the northwestern end of the GTFS forms a horsetail splay structure, with many faults having normal components, and to the east, GTFS merges with the Bozghush fault zone. GTFS shows a variety of transtension and transpression tectonic structures (stepovers, bendings, pull-apart basins, and splay structures) formed in the dextral shear zone. North Tabriz fault zone is characterized by three main NW striking right-stepping en echelon segments (Bostan Abad, Shebli, and Tabriz fault segments) and is known as the causative fault of three destructive historical earthquakes on 1042/11/04 (Mw 7/6), 1721/04/26 (Mw 7/7), and 1780/01/08 (Mw 7/7). To the east, it joins the Bozghush thrust fault zone that caused the 2019/11/07 (Mw 6/0) earthquake on its Shalgun-Yelimsi left-lateral strike-slip fault segment. In the central part of the GTFS, the Mishu-Tasuj fault zone is formed as a transpressional bend. The macroseismic epicenter of the 1786/10 (Mw 6/2) earthquake is located near this fault zone. Thrust faults in the southern part of the Mishu-Tasuj fault zone are parallel with close distances, and have uplifted the land masses; probably representing the migration of thrust faulting into the southern plains; similar to the Esfarayen and Sabzevar thrust faults in northeastern Iran. Four pull-apart basins have been created due to the movement of fault segments along the Gailatu-Siah Cheshmeh-Khoy fault. The current kinematics of the GTFS plays a key role in the tectonic of northwestern Iran and accommodates part of the convergence movement between the Eurasian and Arabian plates. Earthquake history and geometry of different segments of the GTFS imply seismic gap, especially on the North Tabriz fault, and faults interaction (e.g., between Shalgun-Yelimsi left-lateral strike-slip fault and south Bozghush thrust fault, and Gailatu-Siah Cheshmeh-Khoy right-lateral strike-slip fault and Tasuj thrust fault) which are important issues in seismic hazard in northwestern, especially for Tabriz City with a population of about 1.5 million.


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