EGU24-12143, updated on 09 Mar 2024
EGU General Assembly 2024
© Author(s) 2024. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Seismotectonics of the Southwestern Swiss Alps – Revisiting Faults, Earthquakes, and Crustal Stresses

Sandro Truttmann1, Tobias Diehl2, Giovanni Luca Cardello3, and Marco Herwegh1
Sandro Truttmann et al.
  • 1Institute of Geological Sciences, University of Bern, Bern, Switzerland (
  • 2Swiss Seismological Service, ETH Zürich, Zürich, Switzerland
  • 3Department of Chemistry, Physics, Mathematics, and Natural Sciences, Sassari University, Sassari, Italy

The Alps are a dynamic orogen, as evidenced by recent crustal uplift and seismic activity. Earthquakes are primarily occurring along the many pre-existing Neogene faults formed during the Alpine orogeny, making it challenging to predict which faults are being reactivated. Limited geophysical data, low strain rates, high erosion rates, and widespread faulting complicate the detection of active faults in low-strain regions. Currently there is a lack of knowledge about the abundance, architecture, and properties of active faults in the Alps, which is however critical for evaluating the regional seismic hazard.

This study adopts an interdisciplinary approach to identify and characterize active faults in the Rawil depression and surrounding areas north of the Rhône-Simplon fault system, located in the southwestern Swiss Alps. A comprehensive seismotectonic description of the region is achieved by combining information from recent high-precision earthquake catalogs derived from relative relocations covering about 40 years, new fault maps using remote sensing and field surveys, updated stress inversion from extended focal mechanism catalogs and paleostress inversion from fault slip data, as well as GNSS data. Results from 3D imaging of active faults at depth, based on the high-precision hypocenter catalogs, reveal that subvertical faults, striking E-W, host most of the present-day earthquakes in the region. This imaging also uncovers previously unknown NW-SE striking active faults potentially contributing to the overall strain distribution in this part of the Alps. Compared to principal stress orientations in the upper crust derived from focal mechanisms, faults striking in both E-W and NW-SE directions appear to be optimally oriented for reactivation in the current stress field. Recent crustal stresses, consistent with the results obtained from paleostress inversion indicating NE/SW-directed transtension, suggest a relatively constant stress regime over the last couple of million years. This implies similarities between exhumed and seismically active faults at depth. The agreement between fault geometries exhumed at the surface and reconstructions of active faults at depth, as determined by hypocenter-based 3D imaging of active faults, support these findings. In conclusion, our study demonstrates that such interdisciplinary studies provide valuable insights into the deformation processes in tectonically active regions, contributing to refined seismic hazard assessments.

How to cite: Truttmann, S., Diehl, T., Cardello, G. L., and Herwegh, M.: Seismotectonics of the Southwestern Swiss Alps – Revisiting Faults, Earthquakes, and Crustal Stresses, EGU General Assembly 2024, Vienna, Austria, 14–19 Apr 2024, EGU24-12143,, 2024.