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Partnerships for enhanced engagement in research (PEER) SCIENCE
Cycle 3 (2014 Deadline)

Active geodynamics of the Caucasus region

PI:  Tea Godoladze (, Ilia State University, with co-PIs Arkadi Karakhanyan (deceased, November 2017), Institute of Geological Sciences, Armenian Academy of Sciences; and Fakhraddin Abulfat oglu Kadirov (, Institute of Geology, Azerbaijan National Academy of Sciences
U.S. Partner: Robert Reilinger, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Project Dates: September 2014 to May 2017
Continental collisions are a fundamental part of the Wilson Cycle and play a significant role in the evolution of the Earth. They have particular societal importance, as historically the most destructive earthquakes in terms of the loss of life and property have occurred along continental collision zones and the associated zones of lithospheric translation. Only two active continent-continent collisions occur today: India-Eurasia and Arabia-Eurasia (AR-EU). Because of its young age, limited spatial extent, and less than 20 years of geodetic studies, the AR-EU continental collision zone offers the opportunity to determine the detailed kinematics of active deformation for the entire region of plate interaction, from the stable Arabian Plate in the south to the stable Eurasian Plate in the north. The Greater Caucasus is primarily a fold and thrust belt and represents the northern extent of the deformation between the Arabian and Eurasian plates. The region is tectonically and structurally complex, and it is possible to observe earthquakes with the magnitude of 7 in the region. Quantifying the distribution of crustal strain within the collision zone, which is a principal objective of this research project, is important both for clarifying our understanding of the dynamics of continental deformation and for developing an improved physical basis for estimating and mitigating earthquake hazards in this rapidly developing region.

The research team will use the available GPS data throughout the collision zone obtained throughout the Caucasus region, enhance the existed GPS network by means of installing new permanent stations, and perform trans-section GPS surveys from the western part of the Caucasus Mountains to the very eastern edge of the main Caucasus thrust. This effort will utilize and build upon a new GPS velocity field (1994-2012), including all GPS sites of the Caucasus countries (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia) and further constrained by geodetic observations available in Turkey, the northern part of the Arabian Plate, the northern Caucasus in Russia, and Iran. The research study will provide new constraints on the convergence across the Greater Caucasus (spatial distribution of active faults and their associated slip rates and locking depths) from the Black Sea to the Caspian Sea, and the faulting and block rotation in the Lesser Caucasus. The Institute of Geology of Armenia, the Institute of Geology of Azerbaijan, the Institute of Earth Sciences at Ilia State University of Georgia, and the U.S. partner institution MIT will conduct geodetic monitoring and enhance capabilities in data analysis, modeling, and interpretation. The U.S. partner’s institute will assist the research team in network design, monumentation, and will conduct in-country workshops on data reduction, analysis, and kinematic modelling. Capacity building in the developing nations in the Caucasus region is of primary interest among the nations and is a major objective of this multilateral collaboration, as it is necessary to assure the improved future geodetic control to constrain better earthquake hazards in this highly active and vulnerable region. Broader impacts of this international collaboration-driven research study between the Armenian, Azerbaijan, and Georgian and U.S. counterparts include technology transfer through in-country workshops, dissemination of information for estimating earthquake hazards (strain rates, fault locking depths), enhanced geodetic infrastructure, and institutional capabilities which will also assure continued and improved geodetic observations in the future.

Summary of Recent Activities

In order to expand and achieve the initial project goals, the project team began this year by installing additional GPS observation stations throughout the region. Together with U.S. partner Robert Reilinger of MIT, the project teams identified potential points of deployment and considered six possible lines across the Georgia to conduct GPS measurements. In March, the Armenian and Georgian teams began the installation expeditions. In Georgia, the first field trip focused on the Achara region, where the team met with local authorities who promised to support the project, particularly with regard to the point that was located near the Turkish border. A GPS antenna site was identified in the northeastern part of the Achara Mountains, but due to weather conditions and accessibility of the area, installation will be conducted in late summer. The second trip will take place in May 2015 to central Georgia. The team will add GPS points in the Brille of Khashuri, Chobiskhevi Borjomi, and Sachkhere districts. In Armenia, the team installed three survey-mode GPS observation points in the southern part of the country with collaborators from the Universite Montpellier II, Laboratoire GTS. The team selected a benchmark manufacturing model with antenna fixation and relied upon the collaborator’s extensive experience of benchmark usage for GPS measurements. Due to the relatively slow speed of the movement of blocks in the region, such a model is more effective then application of tripods at the installed benchmarks. Overall, seven measurements have been collected, and to help in data analysis Ilia State University plans to purchase a workstation to host web database server and data processing program packages. Graduate students will be responsible for maintaining the web data server, and all results will be mapped and accessible online.

On August 26, 2015, the team will conduct its first workshop in Dedoplitskaro, Georgia. The workshop will be hosted by Ilia State University at Dedoplitskaro University, and the project PIs from Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia, along with their U.S. partners, will discuss the first results and future work. The workshop will also host scientists and students from the PIs’ countries, as well as Turkey, Taiwan, and Russia.

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