Structure and kinematics of the Sumatran Fault System in North Sumatra (Indonesia)
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Description: Lithospheric-scale faults related to oblique subduction are responsible for some of the most hazardous earthquakes reported worldwide. The mega-thrust in the Sunda sector of the Sumatran oblique subduction has been intensively studied, especially after the infamous 2004 Mw 9.1 earthquake, but its onshore kinematic complement within the Sumatran subduction, the transform Sumatran Fault System, has received considerably less attention. In this paper, we apply a combination of analysis of Digital Elevation Models (ASTER GDEM) and field evidence to resolve the kinematics of the leading edge of deformation of the northern sector of the Sumatran Fault System. To this end, we mapped the northernmost tip of Sumatra, including the islands to the northwest, between 4.5° N and 6° N. Here, major topographic highs are related to different faults. Using field evidence and our GDEM structural mapping, we can show that in the area where the fault bifurcates into two fault strands, two independent kinematic regimes evolve, both consistent with the large-scale framework of the Sumatran Fault System. Whereas the eastern branch is a classic Riedel system, the western branch features a fold and-thrust belt. The latter contractional feature accommodated significant amounts (c. 20%) of shortening of the system in the study area. Our field observations of the tip of the NSFS match a strain pattern with a western contractional domain (Pulau Weh thrust splay) and an eastern extensional domain (Pulau Aceh riedel system), which are together characteristic of the tip of a propagating strike-slip fault, from a mechanical viewpoint. For the first time, we describe the strain partitioning resulting from the propagation of the NSFS in Sumatra mainland. Our study helps understanding complex kinematics of an evolving strike-slip system and stresses the importance of field studies in addition to remote sensing and geophysical studies.