Strike slip faults are characterised by complex 3D geometries, with abrupt structural variations and a high degree of lateral segmentation. Hence, understanding the underlying mechanisms of lateral fault segmentation can shed light on the distribution of deformation and stress along these faults, as well as their seismic behaviour. In this study, we have tried to characterise some of these parameters for the Levant fault.
We first investigated the seismic behaviour of this fault over the last few thousand years. To do this we realised a paleoseimological trench along the southern section of the fault, in a region where historical seismic data are limited. This allowed us to propose a rupture scenario for the section running from the Gulf of Aqaba to Mount Lebanon (~500km). The resulting catalogue highlights several seismic crises about 200 years long during which the whole fault ruptures in a cascade, interspaced with quiescent periods of about 350-400 years. This suggests that the seismic behaviour of the fault presents temporal clustering. Our catalogue also allowed for the estimation of the slip deficit accumulated over the last 1600 years in the considered section. This deficit is homogeneous along the fault and relatively high (2 m on average), which could suggest that a seismic crisis could happen over the entire region in a near future, as the compensation of such deficit would require the occurrence of a Mw 7.2 event on each section of the fault.
After that we studied the distribution of long-term deformation in a region with a relatively complex geometry: the Gulf of Aqaba. In this region we mapped from field data and satellite images several secondary structures on the margins of the gulf. Indeed, even though the main fault is at sea, part of the vertical deformation is accommodated on land. The confrontation of thermochronological and cosmogenic datations along the eastern coast of the gulf shows an acceleration of the uplift rates. We interpret this as a consequence of the migration of the Euler pole associated with the rotation of the Arabian plaque, 5 ky ago. This migration led to an increase of the transtension in the Gulf of Aqaba, which reactivated ancient faults bordering the coastal plain.
Finally, in order to quantify the mechanisms controlling the segmentation of strike slip faults and their temporal evolution, we realised sand box experiments. Our results highlight the importance of the thickness of the brittle material and its impact on the segment lengths. They also show the persistence of strike slip faults segmentation since the segmentation observed in the field obeys the same scaling laws as that observed at the early stages of deformation in sand box experiments.