Geologic and geodetic constraints on the magnitude and frequency of earthquakes along Malawi's active faults: the Malawi Seismogenic Source Model (MSSM)

Jack N. Williams, Luke N.J. Wedmore, Åke Fagereng, Maximilian J. Werner, Hassan Mdala, Donna J. Shillington, Christopher A. Scholz, Folarin Kolawole, Lachlan J.M. Wright, Juliet Biggs, Zuze Dulanya, Felix Mphepo, Patrick Chindandali

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Active fault data are commonly used in seismic hazard assessments, but there are challenges in deriving the slip rate, geometry, and frequency of earthquakes along active faults. Herein, we present the open-access geospatial Malawi Seismogenic Source Model (MSSM; 10.5281/zenodo.5599616), which describes the seismogenic properties of faults that formed during ongoing east African rifting in Malawi. We first use empirically derived constraints to geometrically classify active faults into section, fault, and multifault seismogenic sources. For sources in the North Basin of Lake Malawi, slip rates can be derived from the vertical offset of a seismic reflector that dated lake cores indicate is 75 ka. Elsewhere, slip rates are constrained from advancing a systems-based approach that partitions geodetically derived rift extension rates in Malawi between seismogenic sources using a priori constraints on a regional strain distribution and a hanging wall flexural extension in magma-poor continental rifts. Slip rates are then combined with source geometry and empirical scaling relationships to estimate earthquake magnitudes and recurrence intervals, and their uncertainty is described from the variability in logic tree outcomes used in these calculations. Sources in the MSSM are 5-269 km long, which implies that large-magnitude (Mw 7-8) earthquakes may occur in Malawi. However, low slip rates (0.05-2 mm yr-1) mean that the frequency of such events will be low (recurrence intervals of ∼103-104 years). We also find that, for 9 out of 11 faults in Lake Malawi's North Basin, differences in the slip rates, when estimated independently from the geodetic data and the offset seismic reflector, are not statistically significant. The MSSM represents an important resource for investigating Malawi's increasing seismic risk and provides a framework for incorporating active fault data into seismic hazard assessment elsewhere in the East African Rift and other tectonically active regions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3607-3639
Number of pages33
JournalNatural Hazards and Earth System Sciences
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 7 2022

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Earth and Planetary Sciences


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