Research Update

Earthquakes and tectonics of the Kura basin, Azerbaijan

Ian Pierce describes his recent field trip to Azerbaijan, excavating trenches along the southern Caucasus thrusts and looking for evidence of historical earthquakes.

Following up on a successful 2022 collaborative field season of paleoseismic research in Azerbaijan, the 2023 season was kicked off by a team consisting of Dr. Ian Pierce (Oxford), Dr. Greg De Pascale (University of Iceland), and Rasul Fayzullayev (Republican Seismic Survey of Azerbaijan).

Rasul Fayzullayev standing in front of a large fold scarp with the Greater Caucasus mountains in the background. With peaks reaching 5 km in elevation, the Greater Caucasus are the highest mountains in Europe.

Two weeks of paleoseismic field work in the Kura fold-thrust belt of the Greater Caucasus in Azerbaijan focused on understanding the possible size and distribution of large earthquakes in this densely populated region. The team opened two fault trenches and investigated a number of the multiple fault strands that form the fold-thrust system.

Folded sediments of the Kura basin are visible in the Goy River canyon. These Quaternary age sediments were deposited by the Caspian Sea prior to initiation of the Kura fold-thrust belt and show an impressive magnitude of deformation for their youthful age.
Dr. Ian Pierce standing next to a paleoseismic trench as it is excavated along the front of the Kura fold-thrust belt. Finding fault scarps to trench in the Caucasus region is surprisingly difficult due to the extensive modification of the landscape by humans over thousands of years. This trench revealed two infilled irrigation canals, but also several clearly capped fault strands.

We also searched for evidence of earthquake damage to medieval monuments including castles, churches, and tombs.

This likely XII century church is located in the hanging wall of the fault less than ten kilometers away from where we trenched. It is nearly completely destroyed, with the damage possibly caused by an earthquake.

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