The Racha-Dzhava earthquake (Ms = 7.0) that occurred on 1991 April 29 at 09:12:48.1 GMT in the southern border of the Great Caucasus is the biggest event ever recorded in the region, stronger than the Spitak earthquake (Ms = 6.9) of 1988. A field expedition to the epicentral area was organised and a temporary seismic network of 37 stations was deployed to record the aftershock activity. A very precise image of the aftershock distribution is obtained, showing an elongated cloud oriented N105??, with one branch trending N310?? in the western part. The southernmost part extends over 80 km, with the depth ranging from 0 to 15 km, and dips north. The northern branch, which is about 30 km long, shows activity that ranges in depth from 5 to 15 km. The complex thrust dips northwards. A stress-tensor inversion from P-wave first-motion polarities shows a state of triaxial compression, with the major principal axis oriented roughly N-S, the minor principal axis being vertical. Body-waveform inversion of teleseismic seismograms was performed for the main shock, which can be divided into four subevents with a total rupture-time duration of 22 s. The most important part of the seismic moment was released by a gentle northerly dipping thrust. The model is consistent with the compressive tectonics of the region and is in agreement with the aftershock distribution and the stress tensor deduced from the aftershocks. The focal mechanisms of the three largest aftershocks were also inverted from body-wave records. The April 29th (Ms = 6.1) and May 5th (Ms = 5.4) aftershocks have thrust mechanisms on roughly E-W-oriented planes, similar to the main shock. Surprisingly, the June 15th (Ms = 6.2) aftershock shows a thrust fault striking N-S. This mechanism is explained by the structural control of the rupture along the east-dipping geometry of the Dzirula Massif close to the Borzhomi-Kazbeg strike-slip fault. In fact, the orientation and shape of the stress tensor produce a thrust on a N-S oriented plane. Nappe tectonics has been identified as an important feature in the Caucasus, and the source mechanism is consistent with this observation. A hidden fault is present below the nappe, and no large surface breaks were observed due to the main shock. The epicentral region is characterized by sediments that are trapped between two crystalline basements: the Dzirula Massif, which crops out south of Chiatoura, and the Caucasus Main Range north of Oni. Most, if not all, of the rupture is controlled by the thrusting of overlapping, deformed and folded sediments over the Dzirula Massif. This event is another example of blind active faults, with the distinctive feature that the fault plane dips at a gentle angle. The Racha Range is one of the surface expressions of this blind thrust, and its growth is the consequence and evidence of similar earthquakes in the past.
Additional publication details
Seismic source study of the Racha-Dzhava (Georgia) earthquake from aftershocks and broad-band teleseismic body-wave records: An example of active nappe tectonics