Skip to main content Accessibility help

Two twentieth-century MLH = 7.5 earthquakes recorded in annually laminated lake sediments from Sary Chelek, western Tian Shan, Kyrgyzstan

  • Stefan Lauterbach (a1), Jens Mingram (a2), Georg Schettler (a2) and Sagynbek Orunbaev (a3)


Central Asia is highly vulnerable to large earthquakes, yet existing records of past seismic activity in this area are still insufficient to reliably assess regional earthquake hazard on longer timescales. Within this study, the sediments of Sary Chelek, a mountain lake in the western Kyrgyz Tian Shan, were investigated to explore its potential as a natural paleoseismic archive. The lacustrine deposits are characterized by a succession of annually laminated (varved) sediments overlying event deposits that consist of large-scale turbidites and distorted lake sediments, similar to earthquake-related deposits described from other lake sediment records. Microscopic sediment analysis furthermore revealed distorted varves in the laminated sequence that closely resemble earthquake-related soft-sediment deformation structures. Varve counting and radiometric dating determine the formation of the distorted varves and the emplacement of the large-scale event deposits to the early 1990s and mid-1940s, respectively. This is in good temporal agreement with the occurrence of two large earthquakes that struck western Kyrgyzstan in AD 1992 and AD 1946. These results and particularly the precise age control of the Sary Chelek sediment record highlight its potential for establishing a long and precisely dated record of regional earthquake activity.


Corresponding author

*Corresponding author at: Leibniz Laboratory for Radiometric Dating and Stable Isotope Research, Kiel University, Max-Eyth-Str. 11–13, 24118 Kiel, Germany. E-mail address: (Stefan Lauterbach).


Hide All
Academy of Science of the Kyrgyz SSR, 1987. Atlas of the Kyrgyz Soviet Socialistic Republic. Vol. 1, Natural Conditions and Resources. State Agency for Cartography and Geodesy, Central Directorate for Geodesy and Cartography, Council of Ministers of the USSR, Moscow.
Appleby, P.G., 2001. Chronostratigraphic techniques in recent sediments. In: Last, W.M., Smol, J.P. (Eds.), Tracking Environmental Change Using Lake Sediments. Vol. 1, Basin Analysis, Coring and Chronological Techniques. Kluwer Academic, Dordrecht, the Netherlands, pp. 171203.
Appleby, P.G., Richardson, N., Nolan, P.J., 1991. 241Am dating of lake sediments. Hydrobiologia 214, 3542.
Beer, R., Heiri, O., Tinner, W., 2007. Vegetation history, fire history and lake development recorded for 6300 years by pollen, charcoal, loss on ignition and chironomids at a small lake in southern Kyrgyzstan (Alay Range, Central Asia). The Holocene 17, 977985.
Beer, R., Kaiser, F., Schmidt, K., Ammann, B., Carraro, G., Grisa, E., Tinner, W., 2008. Vegetation history of the walnut forests in Kyrgyzstan (Central Asia): natural or anthropogenic origin? Quaternary Science Reviews 27, 621632.
Beer, R., Tinner, W., 2008. Four thousand years of vegetation and fire history in the spruce forests of northern Kyrgyzstan (Kungey Alatau, Central Asia). Vegetation History and Archaeobotany 17, 629638.
Bertrand, S., Charlet, F., Chapron, E., Fagel, N., De Batist, M., 2008. Reconstruction of the Holocene seismotectonic activity of the Southern Andes from seismites recorded in Lago Icalma, Chile, 39°S. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 259, 301322.
Bindi, D., Parolai, S., Gómez-Capera, A., Locati, M., Kalmetyeva, Z., Mikhailova, N., 2014. Locations and magnitudes of earthquakes in Central Asia from seismic intensity data. Journal of Seismology 18, 121.
Bogachkin, B.M., Korzhenkov, A.M., Mamyrov, E., Nechaev, Y.V., Omuraliev, M., Petrosyan, A.E., Pletnyov, K.G., Rogozhin, E.A., Charimov, T.A., 1997. The structure of the 1992 Susamyr earthquake source based on its geological and seismological manifestations. Izvestiya Physics of the Solid Earth 33, 867882.
Bowman, D., Korjenkov, A., Porat, N., 2004. Late-Pleistocene seismites from Lake Issyk-Kul, the Tien Shan range, Kyrghyzstan. Sedimentary Geology 163, 211228.
Brauer, A., Endres, C., Negendank, J.F.W., 1999. Lateglacial calendar year chronology based on annually laminated sediments from Lake Meerfelder Maar, Germany. Quaternary International 61, 1725.
Brauer, A., Mangili, C., Moscariello, A., Witt, A., 2008. Palaeoclimatic implications from micro-facies data of a 5900 varve time series from the Piànico interglacial sediment record, southern Alps. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 259, 121135.
Brunskill, G.J., 1969. Fayetteville Green Lake, New York. II. Precipitation and sedimentation of calcite in a meromictic lake with laminated sediments. Limnology and Oceanography 14, 830847.
Chapron, E., Beck, C., Pourchet, M., Deconinck, J.F., 1999. 1822 earthquake-triggered homogenite in Lake Le Bourget (NW Alps). Terra Nova 11, 8692.
Davison, W., Spezzano, P., Hilton, J., 1993. Remobilization of caesium from freshwater sediments. Journal of Environmental Radioactivity 19, 109124.
de Koning, A., Comans, R.N.J., 2004. Reversibility of radiocaesium sorption on illite. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta 68, 28152823.
Evans, D.W., Alberts, J.J., Clark, R.A., 1983. Reversible ion-exchange fixation of cesium-137 leading to mobilization from reservoir sediments. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta 47, 10411049.
Ferronskii, V.I., Polyakov, V.A., Brezgunov, V.S., Vlasova, L.S., Karpychev, Y.A., Bobkov, A.F., Romaniovskii, V.V., Johnson, T., Ricketts, D., Rasmussen, K., 2003. Variations in the hydrological regime of Kara-Bogaz-Gol Gulf, Lake Issyk-Kul, and the Aral Sea assessed based on data of bottom sediment studies. Water Resources 30, 252259.
Fortuna, A.B., 2007. Палинологические исследование донных отложений озера Чатыркуль (Тянь-Шаня, Кыргызстан) [Palynological investigations of sediments from Lake Chatyrkul (Tian Shan, Kygyzstan)]. In: Romanovsky, V.V. (Ed.), Климат, ледники и озера Тянь Шаня: путешествие в прошлое [Climate, glacier and lakes of the Tian Shan: a journey to the past]. Ilim, Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, pp. 2025.
Foster, I.D.L., Mighall, T.M., Proffitt, H., Walling, D.E., Owens, P.N., 2006. Post-depositional 137Cs mobility in the sediments of three shallow coastal lagoons, SW England. Journal of Paleolimnology 35, 881895.
Geyh, M.A., Merkt, J., Müller, H., 1971. Sediment-, Pollen-, und Isotopenanalysen an jahreszeitlich geschichteten Ablagerungen im zentralen Teil des Schleinsees. Archiv für Hydrobiologie 69, 366399.
Ghose, S., Mellors, R.J., Korjenkov, A.M., Hamburger, M.W., Pavlis, T.L., Pavlis, G.L., Omuraliev, M., Mamyrov, E., Muraliev, A.R., 1997. The MS = 7.3 1992 Suusamyr, Kyrgyzstan, earthquake in the Tien Shan: 2. Aftershock focal mechanisms and surface deformation. Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America 87, 2338.
Giardini, D., Grünthal, G., Shedlock, K.M., Zhang, P., 1999. The GSHAP Global Seismic Hazard Map. Annali di Geofisica 42, 12251230.
Girardclos, S., Schmidt, O.T., Sturm, M., Ariztegui, D., Pugin, A., Anselmetti, F.S., 2007. The 1996 AD delta collapse and large turbidite in Lake Brienz. Marine Geology 241, 137154.
Havenith, H.B., Strom, A., Torgoev, I., Torgoev, A., Lamair, L., Ischuk, A., Abdrakhmatov, K., 2015. Tien Shan Geohazards Database: earthquakes and landslides. Geomorphology 249, 1631.
Hilbe, M., Anselmetti, F.S., 2014. Signatures of slope failures and river-delta collapses in a perialpine lake (Lake Lucerne, Switzerland). Sedimentology 61, 18831907.
Hsü, K.J., Kelts, K., 1985. Swiss lakes as a geological laboratory. Part I: turbidity currents. Naturwissenschaften 72, 315321.
Huang, X., Oberhänsli, H., von Suchodoletz, H., Prasad, S., Sorrel, P., Plessen, B., Mathis, M., Usubaliev, R., 2014. Hydrological changes in western Central Asia (Kyrgyzstan) during the Holocene as inferred from a palaeolimnological study in lake Son Kul. Quaternary Science Reviews 103, 134152.
Irmler, R., Daut, G., Mäusbacher, R., 2006. A debris flow calendar derived from sediments of lake Lago di Braies (N Italy). Geomorphology 77, 6978.
Jarvis, A., Reuter, H.I., Nelson, A., Guevara, E., 2008. Hole-filled seamless SRTM data V4 (accessed June 18, 2018). CGIAR Consortium for Spatial Information.
Kalmetieva, Z.A., Mikolaichuk, A.V., Moldobekov, B.D., Meleshko, A.V., Jantaev, M.M., Zubovich, A.V., Havenith, H.B., 2009. The Atlas of Earthquakes in Kyrgyzstan. United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction Secretariat Office in Central Asia/Central-Asian Institute for Applied Geosciences, Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.
Kelts, K., Hsü, K.J., 1978. Freshwater carbonate sedimentation. In: Lerman, A. (Ed.), Lakes: Chemistry, Geology, Physics. Springer, New York, pp. 295324.
Klaminder, J., Appleby, P., Crook, P., Renberg, I., 2012. Post-deposition diffusion of 137Cs in lake sediment: implications for radiocaesium dating. Sedimentology 59, 22592267.
Kondorskaya, N.V., Shebalin, N.V., 1982. New Catalog of Strong Earthquakes in the Territory of the U.S.S.R. from Ancient Times to 1977. World Data Center A for Solid Earth Geophysics, Boulder, CO.
Korjenkov, A.M., Abdieva, S.V., Burtman, V.S., Orlova, L.A., Rust, D., Tibaldi, A., 2013. Indications of late medieval earthquakes in the Talas-Fergana Fault Zone, Tien Shan. Geotectonics 47, 485494.
Korjenkov, A.M., Bobrovskii, A.V., Mamyrov, E.M., 2010. Evidence for strong paleoearthquakes along the Talas-Fergana Fault near the Kök-Bel Pass, Kyrgyzstan. Geotectonics 44, 262270.
Korzhenkov, A.M., Abdieva, S.V., Belousov, T.P., Rust, D., Tibaldi, A., 2014. An age of rockslides and paleoearthquakes in the Karasu River valley (Talas-Fergana Fault, Kyrgyzstan). Seismic Instruments 50, 97108.
Korzhenkov, A.M., Abdieva, S.V., Mazeika, J., Muraliev, A.M., Fortuna, A.B., Charimov, T.A., Yudakhin, A.S., 2015. On unknown strong Holocene earthquakes in the south of the Issyk Kul Depression, Tien Shan. Seismic Instruments 51, 157165.
Koschel, R., Benndorf, J., Proft, G., Recknagel, F., 1983. Calcite precipitation as a natural control mechanism of eutrophication. Archiv für Hydrobiologie 98, 380409.
Kremer, K., Hilbe, M., Simpson, G., Decrouy, L., Wildi, W., Girardclos, S., 2015. Reconstructing 4000 years of mass movement and tsunami history in a deep peri-Alpine lake (Lake Geneva, France-Switzerland). Sedimentology 62, 13051327.
Lauterbach, S., Brauer, A., Andersen, N., Danielopol, D.L., Dulski, P., Hüls, M., Milecka, K., et al. , 2011. Environmental responses to Lateglacial climatic fluctuations recorded in the sediments of pre-Alpine Lake Mondsee (northeastern Alps). Journal of Quaternary Science 26, 253267.
Lauterbach, S., Chapron, E., Brauer, A., Hüls, M., Gilli, A., Arnaud, F., Piccin, A., et al. , 2012. A sedimentary record of Holocene surface runoff events and earthquake activity from Lake Iseo (Southern Alps, Italy). Holocene 22, 749760.
Lauterbach, S., Witt, R., Plessen, B., Dulski, P., Prasad, S., Mingram, J., Gleixner, G., et al. , 2014. Climatic imprint of the mid-latitude Westerlies in the Central Tian Shan of Kyrgyzstan and teleconnections to North Atlantic climate variability during the last 6000 years. The Holocene 24, 970984.
Leonov, N.N., 1970. Чаткальское землетрясение 1946 г [The 1946 Chatkal earthquake]. In: Medvedev, S.V. (Ed.), Сейсмическое движение грунта: Вопросы инженерной сейсмологии [Seismic movements of the ground: Problems of engineering seismology]. Akademia Nauk SSSR, Moscow, pp. 6477.
Lotter, A.F., 1989. Evidence of annual layering in Holocene sediments of Soppensee, Switzerland. Aquatic Sciences 51, 1931.
Magnuszewski, M., Bijak, S., Orozumbekow, A., Howe, B., Musuraliev, K., Zasada, M., Bronisz, K., Bronisz, A., 2015. Different growth patterns of Picea schrenkiana subsp. tianshanica (Rupr.) Bykov and Juglans regia L. coexisting under the same ecological conditions in the Sary-Chelek Biosphere Reserve in Kyrgyzstan. Dendrobiology 73, 1120.
Marco, S., Stein, M., Agnon, A., Ron, H., 1996. Long-term earthquake clustering: a 50,000-year paleoseismic record in the Dead Sea Graben. Journal of Geophysical Research 101, 61796191.
Mathis, M., Sorrel, P., Klotz, S., Huang, X., Oberhänsli, H., 2014. Regional vegetation patterns at lake Son Kul reveal Holocene climatic variability in central Tien Shan (Kyrgyzstan, Central Asia). Quaternary Science Reviews 89, 169185.
Mellors, R.J., Vernon, F.L., Pavlis, G.L., Abers, G.A., Hamburger, M.W., Ghose, S., Iliasov, B., 1997. The MS = 7.3 1992 Suusamyr, Kyrgyzstan, earthquake: 1. Constraints on fault geometry and source parameters based on aftershocks and body-wave modeling. Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America 87, 1122.
Migowski, C., Agnon, A., Bookman, R., Negendank, J.F.W., Stein, M., 2004. Recurrence pattern of Holocene earthquakes along the Dead Sea transform revealed by varve-counting and radiocarbon dating of lacustrine sediments. Earth and Planetary Science Letters 222, 301314.
Moernaut, J., De Batist, M., Charlet, F., Heirman, K., Chapron, E., Pino, M., Brümmer, R., Urrutia, R., 2007. Giant earthquakes in South-Central Chile revealed by Holocene mass-wasting events in Lake Puyehue. Sedimentary Geology 195, 239256.
Molnar, P., Tapponnier, P., 1975. Cenozoic tectonics of Asia: effects of a continental collision. Science 189, 419426.
Monecke, K., Anselmetti, F.S., Becker, A., Sturm, M., Giardini, D., 2004. The record of historic earthquakes in lake sediments of central Switzerland. Tectonophysics 394, 2140.
Mulder, T., Alexander, J., 2001. The physical character of subaqueous sedimentary density flows and their deposits. Sedimentology 48, 269299.
Mulder, T., Cochonat, P., 1996. Classification of offshore mass movements. Journal of Sedimentary Research 66, 4357.
Nomade, J., Chapron, E., Desmet, M., Reyss, J.-L., Arnaud, F., Lignier, V., 2005. Reconstructing historical seismicity from lake sediments (Lake Laffrey, Western Alps, France). Terra Nova 17, 350357.
Obermeier, S.F., 1996. Use of liquefaction-induced features for paleoseismic analysis: an overview of how seismic liquefaction features can be distinguished from other features and how their regional distribution and properties of source sediment can be used to infer the location and strength of Holocene paleo-earthquakes. Engineering Geology 44, 176.
Ojala, A.E.K., Mattila, J., Virtasalo, J., Kuva, J., Luoto, T.P., 2018. Seismic deformation of varved sediments in southern Fennoscandia at 7400cal BP. Tectonophysics 744, 5871.
Ricketts, R.D., Johnson, T.C., Brown, E.T., Rasmussen, K.A., Romanovsky, V.V., 2001. The Holocene paleolimnology of Lake Issyk-Kul, Kyrgyzstan: trace element and stable isotope composition of ostracodes. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 176, 207227.
Ringrose, P.S., 1989. Palaeoseismic (?) liquefaction event in late Quaternary lake sediment at Glen Roy, Scotland. Terra Nova 1, 5762.
Robbins, J.A., Edgington, D.N., 1975. Determination of recent sedimentation rates in Lake Michigan using Pb-210 and Cs-137. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta 39, 285304.
Schnellmann, M., Anselmetti, F.S., Giardini, D., Mckenzie, J.A., 2006. 15,000 Years of mass-movement history in Lake Lucerne: implications for seismic and tsunami hazards. Eclogae Geologicae Helvetiae 99, 409428.
Schnellmann, M., Anselmetti, F.S., Giardini, D., McKenzie, J.A., Ward, S.N., 2002. Prehistoric earthquake history revealed by lacustrine slump deposits. Geology 30, 11311134.
Schwarz, A., Turner, F., Lauterbach, S., Plessen, B., Krahn, K., Glodniok, S., Mischke, S., et al. , 2017. Mid- to Late Holocene climate-driven regime shifts inferred from diatom, ostracod and stable isotope records from Lake Son Kol (Central Tian Shan, Kyrgyzstan). Quaternary Science Reviews 177, 340356.
Sevastyanov, D.V., Lijva, A.A., Berdovskaya, G.N., 1990. Evolution of mountain lakes of Central Asia in Late Quaternary. Scientia Limnologica Sinica 2, 1724.
Shiki, T., Kumon, F., Inouchi, Y., Kontani, Y., Sakamoto, T., Tateishi, M., Matsubara, H., Fukuyama, K., 2000. Sedimentary features of the seismo-turbidites, Lake Biwa, Japan. Sedimentary Geology 135, 3750.
Shnitnikov, A.V., Lijva, A.A., Berdovskaya, G.N., Sevastyanov, D.V., 1978. Paleolimnology of Chatyrkel Lake (Tien-Shan). Polskie Archiwum Hydrobiologii 25, 383390.
Siegenthaler, C., Finger, W., Kelts, K., Wang, S., 1987. Earthquake and seiche deposits in Lake Lucerne, Switzerland. Eclogae Geologicae Helvetiae 80, 241260.
Simpson, D.W., Hamburger, M.W., Pavlov, V.D., Nersesov, I.L., 1981. Tectonics and seismicity of the Toktogul Reservoir Region, Kirgizia, USSR. Journal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth 86, 345358.
Sims, J.D., 1973. Earthquake-induced structures in sediments of Van Norman Lake, San Fernando, California. Science 182, 161163.
Sletten, K., Blikra, L.H., Ballantyne, C.K., Nesje, A., Dahl, S.O., 2003. Holocene debris flows recognized in a lacustrine sedimentary succession: sedimentology, chronostratigraphy and cause of triggering. The Holocene 13, 907920.
Strasser, M., Monecke, K., Schnellmann, M., Anselmetti, F.S., 2013. Lake sediments as natural seismographs: a compiled record of Late Quaternary earthquakes in Central Switzerland and its implication for Alpine deformation. Sedimentology 60, 319341.
Strom, A., 2010. Landslide dams in Central Asia region. Landslides 47, 309324.
Strom, A.L., Korup, O., 2006. Extremely large rockslides and rock avalanches in the Tien Shan Mountains, Kyrgyzstan. Landslides 3, 125136.
Sturm, M., Matter, A., 1978. Turbidites and varves in Lake Brienz (Switzerland): deposition of clastic detritus by density currents. In: Matter, A., Tucker, M.E. (Eds.), Modern and Ancient Lake Sediments. Special Publication of the International Association of Sedimentologists 2. Blackwell Scientific, Oxford, UK, pp. 147168.
Swierczynski, T., Lauterbach, S., Dulski, P., Delgado, J., Merz, B., Brauer, A., 2013. Mid- to late Holocene flood frequency changes in the northeastern Alps as recorded in varved sediments of Lake Mondsee (Upper Austria). Quaternary Science Reviews 80, 7890.
Tylmann, W., Enters, D., Kinder, M., Moska, P., Ohlendorf, C., Poręba, G., Zolitschka, B., 2013. Multiple dating of varved sediments from Lake Łazduny, northern Poland: toward an improved chronology for the last 150 years. Quaternary Geochronology 15, 98107.
Ullah, S., Bindi, D., Pilz, M., Danciu, L., Weatherill, G., Zuccolo, E., Ischuk, A., Mikhailova, N.N., Abdrakhmatov, K., Parolai, S., 2015. Probabilistic seismic hazard assessment for Central Asia. Annals of Geophysics 58, S0103.
Van Daele, M., Moernaut, J., Doom, L., Boes, E., Fontijn, K., Heirman, K., Vandoorne, W., et al. , 2015. A comparison of the sedimentary records of the 1960 and 2010 great Chilean earthquakes in 17 lakes: implications for quantitative lacustrine palaeoseismology. Sedimentology 62, 14661496.
Vannière, B., Magny, M., Joannin, S., Simonneau, A., Wirth, S.B., Hamann, Y., Chapron, E., Gilli, A., Desmet, M., Anselmetti, F.S., 2013. Orbital changes, variation in solar activity and increased anthropogenic activities: controls on the Holocene flood frequency in the Lake Ledro area, Northern Italy. Climate of the Past 9, 11931209.
Waldmann, N., Anselmetti, F.S., Ariztegui, D., Austin, J., James, A., Pirouz, M., Moy, C.M., Dunbar, R., 2011. Holocene mass-wasting events in Lago Fagnano, Tierra del Fuego (54°S): implications for paleoseismicity of the Magallanes-Fagnano transform fault. Basin Research 23, 171190.
Wirth, S.B., Glur, L., Gilli, A., Anselmetti, F.S., 2013. Holocene flood frequency across the Central Alps – solar forcing and evidence for variations in North Atlantic atmospheric circulation. Quaternary Science Reviews 80, 112128.
Zolitschka, B., Francus, P., Ojala, A.E.K., Schimmelmann, A., 2015. Varves in lake sediments – a review. Quaternary Science Reviews 117, 141.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Quaternary Research
  • ISSN: 0033-5894
  • EISSN: 1096-0287
  • URL: /core/journals/quaternary-research
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *



Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed