Airborne LiDAR analysis and geochronology of faulted glacial moraines in the Tahoe-Sierra frontal fault zone reveal substantial seismic hazards in the Lake Tahoe region, California-Nevada, USA

James F. Howle, Gerald W. Bawden, Richard A. Schweickert, Robert C. Finkel, Lewis E. Hunter, Ronn S. Rose and Brent von Twistern
Geological Society of America Bulletin September 2012, v. 124, no. 9-10

Abstract

We integrated high-resolution bare-earth airborne light detection and ranging (LiDAR) imagery with field observations and modern geochronology to characterize the Tahoe-Sierra frontal fault zone, which forms the neotectonic boundary between the Sierra Nevada and the Basin and Range Province west of Lake Tahoe. The LiDAR imagery clearly delineates active normal faults that have displaced late Pleistocene glacial moraines and Holocene alluvium along 30 km of linear, right-stepping range front of the Tahoe-Sierra frontal fault zone. Herein, we illustrate and describe the tectonic geomorphology of faulted lateral moraines. We have developed new, three-dimensional modeling techniques that utilize the high-resolution LiDAR data to determine tectonic displacements of moraine crests and alluvium. The statistically robust displacement models combined with new ages of the displaced Tioga (20.8 ± 1.4 ka) and Tahoe (69.2 ± 4.8 ka; 73.2 ± 8.7 ka) moraines are used to estimate the minimum vertical separation rate at 17 sites along the Tahoe-Sierra frontal fault zone. Near the northern end of the study area, the minimum vertical separation rate is 1.5 ± 0.4 mm/yr, which represents a two- to threefold increase in estimates of seismic moment for the Lake Tahoe basin. From this study, we conclude that potential earthquake moment magnitudes (Mw) range from 6.3 ± 0.25 to 6.9 ± 0.25. A close spatial association of landslides and active faults suggests that landslides have been seismically triggered. Our study underscores that the Tahoe-Sierra frontal fault zone poses substantial seismic and landslide hazards.

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