Research on neotectonics and related seismicity has hitherto been mostly focused on active plate boundaries that are characterized by generally high levels of earthquake activity. Current seismic hazard estimates for intraplate domains are mainly based on probabilistic analyses of historical and instrumental earthquake catalogues. The accuracy of such hazard estimates is limited by the fact that available catalogues are restricted to a few hundred years, which, on geological time scales, is insignificant and not suitable for the assessment of tectonic processes controlling the observed earthquake activity. More reliable hazard prediction requires access to high quality data sets covering a geologically significant time span in order to obtain a better understanding of processes controlling on-going intraplate deformation.
The Alpine Orogen and the intraplate sedimentary basins and rifts in its northern foreland are associated with a much higher level of neotectonic activity than hitherto assumed. Seismicity and stress indicator data, combined with geodetic and geomorphologic observations, demonstrate that deformation of the Northern Alpine foreland is still on-going and will continue in the future. This has major implications for the assessment of natural hazards and the environmental degradation potential of this densely populated area. We examine relationships between deeper lithospheric processes, neotectonics and surface processes in the northern Alpine Foreland, and their implications for tectonically induced topography.
For the Environmental Tectonics Project (ENTEC), the Upper and Lower Rhine Graben (URG and LRG) and the Vienna Basin (VB) were selected as natural laboratories. The Vienna Basin developed during the middle Miocene as a sinistral pull-apart structure on top of the East Alpine nappe stack, whereas the Upper and Lower Rhine grabens are typical intracontinental rifts. The Upper Rhine Graben opened during its Late Eocene and Oligocene initial rifting phase by nearly orthogonal crustal extension, whereas its Neogene evolution was controlled by oblique extension. Seismic tomography suggests that during extension the mantle-lithosphere was partially decoupled from the upper crust at the level of the lower crust. However, whole lithospheric folding controlled the mid-Miocene to Pliocene uplift of the Vosges–Black Forest Arch, whereas thermal thinning of the mantle–lithosphere above a mantle plume contributed substantially to the past and present uplift of the Rhenish Massif. By contrast, oblique crustal extension, controlling the late Oligocene initial subsidence stage of the Lower Rhine Graben, gave way to orthogonal extension at the transition to the Neogene.
The ENTEC Project integrated geological, geophysical, geomorphologic, geodetic and seismological data and developed dynamic models to quantify the societal impact of neotectonics in areas hosting major urban and industrial activity concentrations. The response of Europe's intraplate lithosphere to Late Neogene compressional stresses depends largely on its thermo-mechanical structure, which, in turn, controls vertical motions, topography evolution and related surface processes.