Earthquakes represent a serious threat to the people and institutions of Afghanistan. As part of a United States Agency for International Development (USAID) effort to assess the resource potential and seismic hazards of Afghanistan, the Seismic Hazard Mapping group of the United States Geological Survey (USGS) has prepared a series of probabilistic seismic hazard maps that help quantify the expected frequency and strength of ground shaking nationwide. To construct the maps, we do a complete hazard analysis for each of ~35,000 sites in the study area. We use a probabilistic methodology that accounts for all potential seismic sources and their rates of earthquake activity, and we incorporate modeling uncertainty by using logic trees for source and ground-motion parameters. See the Appendix for an explanation of probabilistic seismic hazard analysis and discussion of seismic risk.
Afghanistan occupies a southward-projecting, relatively stable promontory of the Eurasian tectonic plate (Ambraseys and Bilham, 2003; Wheeler and others, 2005). Active plate boundaries, however, surround Afghanistan on the west, south, and east. To the west, the Arabian plate moves northward relative to Eurasia at about 3 cm/yr. The active plate boundary trends northwestward through the Zagros region of southwestern Iran. Deformation is accommodated throughout the territory of Iran; major structures include several north-south-trending, right-lateral strike-slip fault systems in the east and, farther to the north, a series of east-west-trending reverse- and strike-slip faults. This deformation apparently does not cross the border into relatively stable western Afghanistan. In the east, the Indian plate moves northward relative to Eurasia at a rate of about 4 cm/yr. A broad, transpressional plate-boundary zone extends into eastern Afghanistan, trending southwestward from the Hindu Kush in northeast Afghanistan, through Kabul, and along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. Deformation here is expressed as a belt of major, north-northeast-trending, left-lateral strike-slip faults and abundant seismicity. The seismicity intensifies farther to the northeast and includes a prominent zone of deep earthquakes associated with northward subduction of the Indian plate beneath Eurasia that extends beneath the Hindu Kush and Pamirs Mountains.
Production of the seismic hazard maps is challenging because the geological and seismological data required to produce a seismic hazard model are limited. The data that are available for this project include historical seismicity and poorly constrained slip rates on only a few of the many active faults in the country. Much of the hazard is derived from a new catalog of historical earthquakes: from 1964 to the present, with magnitude equal to or greater than about 4.5, and with depth between 0 and 250 kilometers. We also include four specific faults in the model: the Chaman fault with an assigned slip rate of 10 mm/yr, the Central Badakhshan fault with an assigned slip rate of 12 mm/yr, the Darvaz fault with an assigned slip rate of 7 mm/yr, and the Hari Rud fault with an assigned slip rate of 2 mm/yr. For these faults and for shallow seismicity less than 50 km deep, we incorporate published ground-motion estimates from tectonically active regions of western North America, Europe, and the Middle East. Ground-motion estimates for deeper seismicity are derived from data in subduction environments. We apply estimates derived for tectonic regions where subduction is the main tectonic process for intermediate-depth seismicity between 50- and 250-km depth.
Within the framework of these limitations, we have developed a preliminary probabilistic seismic-hazard assessment of Afghanistan, the type of analysis that underpins the seismic components of modern building codes in the United States. The assessment includes maps of estimated peak ground-acceleration (PGA), 0.2-second spectral acceleration (SA), and 1.0-secon