Supriya Ghosh (Editor)

2001 Kunlun earthquake

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Magnitude  7.8 Mw
Casualties  none recorded
Date  14 November 2001
Areas affected  China
Depth  15,000 m
2001 Kunlun earthquake
Similar  2014 Kangding earthquake, 2008 Damxung earthquake, 2008 Panzhihua earthquake, 1970 Tonghai earthquake, 1950 Assam–Tibet earthquake

The 2001 Kunlun earthquake also known as the 2001 Kokoxili earthquake, occurred on 14 November 2001 at 09:26 UTC (17:26 local time), with an epicenter near Kokoxili, close to the border between Qinghai and Xinjiang in a remote mountainous region. With a magnitude of 7.8 Mw it was the most powerful earthquake in China for 5 decades. No casualties were reported, presumably due to the very low population density and the lack of high-rise buildings. This earthquake was associated with the longest surface rupture ever recorded on land, ~450 km.


Tectonic setting

The Kunlun fault is one of the major sinistral strike-slip structures that accommodate the eastward motion of the Tibetan plateau relative to the Eurasian plate. This motion is caused by the lateral spreading of the zone of thickened crust associated with the collision between the Indian and Eurasian plates.


The earthquake rupture began on a relatively small strike-slip fault segment at the western end of the Kunlun fault in the region of the mountain Buka Daban Feng. The rupture propagated to the east via an extensional stepover before following the main strand of the Kunlun fault. The region of co-seismic deformation (i.e. that occurred during the earthquake) is unusually large, with significant faulting being observed up to 60 km from the main rupture trace. This deformation occurs in two swathes, ca. 20 and 60 km from the main fault trace. Pre-existing lineaments and geomorphological features suggest that this earthquake-triggered displacement occurred on existing faults.

An analysis of the propagation speed indicates that the rupture propagated at a normal velocity along the original segment, but increased in velocity to above the S-wave velocity after the jump across the extensional stepover and continued at that speed until propagation stopped. This makes the Kunlun earthquake the best documented example of a supershear earthquake. It has been suggested that the unusually wide zone of co-seismic deformation is a direct result of the supershear rupture propagation.


Due to the remoteness of the region, most reports of damage came from areas hundreds of kilometers from the epicenter. The nearest population centre, the city of Golmud, reported severe shaking but no buildings collapsed. Some damage was reported at the construction site for the Qingzang railway (Qinghai-Tibet railway) and along the Qinghai-Tibet highway.


2001 Kunlun earthquake Wikipedia

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