1887
Volume 20 Number 1
  • E-ISSN: 1365-2117

Abstract

ABSTRACT

A central question in structural geology is whether, and by what mechanism, active faults (and the folds often associated with them) grow in length as they accumulate displacement. An obstacle in our understanding of these processes is the lack of examples in which the lateral growth of active structures can be demonstrated definitively, as geomorphic indicators of lateral propagation are often difficult, or even impossible to distinguish from the effects of varying lithology or non‐uniform displacement and slip histories. In this paper we examine, using the Zagros mountains of southern Iran as our example, the extent to which qualitative analysis of satellite imagery and digital topography can yield insight into the growth, lateral propagation, and interaction of individual fold segments in regions of active continental shortening. The Zagros fold‐and‐thrust belt contains spectacular whaleback anticlines that are well exposed in resistant Tertiary and Mesozoic limestone, are often >100 km in length, and which contain a large proportion of the global hydrocarbon reserves. In one example, Kuh‐e Handun, where an anticline is mantled by soft Miocene sediments, direct evidence of lateral fold propagation is recorded in remnants of consequent drainage patterns on the fold flanks that do not correspond to the present‐day topography. We suggest that in most other cases, the soft Miocene and Pliocene sediments that originally mantled the folds, and which would have recorded early stages in the growth histories, have been completely stripped away, thus removing any direct geomorphic evidence of lateral propagation. However, many of the long fold chains of the Zagros do appear to be formed from numerous segments that have coalesced. If our interpretations are correct, the merger of individual fold segments that have grown in length is a major control on the development of through‐going drainage and sedimentation patterns in the Zagros, and may be an important process in other regions of crustal shortening as well. Abundant earthquakes in the Zagros show that large seismogenic thrust faults must be present at depth, but these faults rarely reach the Earth's surface, and their relationship to the surface folding is not well constrained. The individual fold segments that we identify are typically 20–40 km in length, which correlates well with the maximum length of the seismogenic basement faults suggested from the largest observed thrusting earthquakes. This correlation between the lengths of individual fold segments and the lengths of seismogenic faults at depth suggest that it is possible, at least in some cases, that there may be a direct relationship between folding and faulting in the Zagros, with individual fold segments underlain by discrete thrusts.

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