Postglacial fault movement and palaeoseismicity in western Scotland: a reappraisal of the Kinloch Hourn fault, Kintail

I. Stewart, C. Firth, Derek Rust, P. Collins, J. Firth

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    The Kinloch Hourn fault is the most prominent of a number of suspectedpostglacial faults in the western Scottish Highlands. These faults areinterpreted to have been reactivated by repeated large (M > 6)palaeoseismic events following deglaciation 10,000–13,000 years ago.Based on inferred deflections of drainage courses, previous studies of thefault have estimated 160 ± 40 m cumulative left-lateral displacementalong a 14 km long active segment during postglacial times. Reportedsoft-sediment deformation phenomena imply that activity on the KinlochHourn fault has persisted into the late Holocene, with the most recentmovement having been associated with a magnitude 5.5–6.0 surface-faultingevent between 3500 and 2400 years ago. The marked contrast betweensuch palaeoseismic activity and the present-day seismic quiescence ofwestern Scotland has stimulated this critical reappraisal of the KinlochHourn fault.This paper reassesses the key lines of evidence for postglacial fault activityand palaeoseismicty on the Kinloch Hourn fault, combining the analysis of1:15,000-scale air photos, field-based geomorphic mapping andpalaeoenvironmental investigations. Our reappraisal of inferred drainagedeflections across the fault contends that previous reports of significant(102 m) left-lateral slip on the fault during the Holocene arespurious. Instead, incidences of Holocene channel abandonment along thefault line are non-synchronous and probably reflect non-tectonic drainagechanges. The timing of soft-sediment deformation in the vicinity of the faultis revised to an early Holocene date (8990–8580 calendar years BP), whichis in accord with both the palaeoenvironmental history of the site andconsistent with published ages of earthquake-induced liquefactionphenomena documented elsewhere in western Scotland. An alleged recent(post-2400 radiocarbon years BP) ground rupture on the fault isquestioned in the light of uncertainty about both the nature of the faultedsoil deposit and the late Holocene age attributed to it.The study concludes that there is no convincing evidence for postglacialsurface rupture on the Kinloch Hourn fault and speculates that the casefor significant (101–102 m) postglacial movement on otherfaults in western Scotland may be similarly `unproven'.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)307-328
    Number of pages22
    JournalJournal of Seismology
    Issue number3
    Publication statusPublished - Jul 2001


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