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Rapid active thrust faulting at the northern Alaska Range front

March 29, 2023

Plate convergence rates strongly influence seismicity and mountain building inboard of convergent margins, but the distribution and kinematics of structures accommodating farfield convergence can be elusive. In interior Alaska, Yakutat microplate convergence drives late Pleistocene–recent right slip on the Denali fault, but westward-decreasing slip rates leave substantial residual Yakutat motion unaccounted for. Here, we show that Northern Foothills thrust slip beneath the northern Alaska Range absorbs a modern 4.4 mm/yr geodetic velocity gradient equivalent to ~78% of the 5.6 mm/yr residual Yakutat convergence along the central Denali fault. Infrared-stimulated luminescence ages of strath terrace deposits (67–4 ka; six sites) quantify Totatlanika River bedrock incision across the 1947 Mw 7.1 thrust earthquake epicentral region. Incision rates increase abruptly from <1 mm/yr to 4.8–5.6 mm/yr above the blind thrust tip near the range front. Rapid slip at 6.7 mm/yr on a steep thrust ramp beneath the northern Alaska Range front accommodates the geodetic gradient, drives rock uplift at rates matching measured incision rates, and implies that large earthquakes like the 1947 event may recur with 500–1400 yr frequency. Results illuminate focused seismogenic strain inboard of a complex convergent margin and prompt reevaluation of Alaska’s neotectonic framework.

Publication Year 2023
Title Rapid active thrust faulting at the northern Alaska Range front
DOI 10.1130/G51049.1
Authors Adrian Bender, Richard O. Lease, Tammy M. Rittenour, James V. Jones
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Geology
Index ID 70246241
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Alaska Science Center Geology Minerals