The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) with support from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) mission in Afghanistan, has prepared a digital map showing the distribution of probable and suspected Quaternary faults in Afghanistan. This map is a key component of a broader effort to assess and map the country's seismic hazards. Our analyses of remote-sensing imagery reveal a complex array of tectonic features that we interpret to be probable and possible active faults within the country and in the surrounding border region. In our compilation, we have mapped previously recognized active faults in greater detail, and have categorized individual features based on their geomorphic expression. We assigned mapped features to eight newly defined domains, each of which contains features that appear to have similar styles of deformation. The styles of deformation associated with each domain provide insight into the kinematics of the modern tectonism, and define a tectonic framework that helps constrain deformational models of the Alpine-Himalayan orogenic belt.
The modern fault movements, deformation, and earthquakes in Afghanistan are driven by the collision between the northward-moving Indian subcontinent and Eurasia. The patterns of probable and possible Quaternary faults generally show that much of the modern tectonic activity is related to transfer of plate-boundary deformation across the country. The left-lateral, strike-slip Chaman fault in southeastern Afghanistan probably has the highest slip rate of any fault in the country; to the north, this slip is distributed onto several fault systems. At the southern margin of the Kabul block, the style of faulting changes from mainly strike-slip motion associated with the boundary between the Indian and Eurasian plates, to transpressional and transtensional faulting. North and northeast of the Kabul block, we recognized a complex pattern of potentially active strike-slip, thrust, and normal faults that form a conjugate shear system in a transpressional region of the Trans-Himalayan orogenic belt.
The general patterns and orientations of faults and the styles of deformation that we interpret from the imagery are consistent with the styles of faulting determined from focal mechanisms of historical earthquakes. Northwest-trending strike-slip fault zones are cut and displaced by younger, southeast-verging thrust faults; these relations define the interaction between northwest-southeast-oriented contraction and northwest-directed extrusion in the western Himalaya, Pamir, and Hindu Kush regions. Transpression extends into north-central Afghanistan where north-verging contraction along the east-west-trending Alburz-Marmul fault system interacts with northwest-trending strike-slip faults. Pressure ridges related to thrust faulting and extensional basins bounded by normal faults are located at major stepovers in these northwest-trending strike-slip systems. In contrast, young faulting in central and western Afghanistan indicates that the deformation is dominated by extension where strike-slip fault zones transition into regions of normal faults. In addition to these initial observations, our digital map and database provide a foundation that can be expanded, complemented, and modified as future investigations provide more detailed information about the location, characteristics, and history of movement on Quaternary faults in Afghanistan.