Soft sediment deformation by Kelvin Helmholtz Instability: A case from Dead Sea earthquakes

Eyal Heifetz*, Amotz Agnon, Shmuel Marco

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

51 Scopus citations


The standard explanation for soft sediment deformation is associated with overturn of inverted density gradients. However, in many cases, observations do not support this interpretation. Here we suggest an alternative in which stably stratified layers undergo a shear instability during relative sliding via the Kelvin-Helmholtz Instability (KHI) mechanism, triggered by earthquake shaking. Dead Sea sediments have long stood out as a classical and photogenic example for recumbent folding of soft sediment. These billow-like folds are strikingly similar to KHI structures and have been convincingly tied to earthquakes. Our analysis suggests a threshold for ground acceleration increasing with the thickness of the folded layers. The maximum thickness of folded layers (order of decimeters) corresponds to ground accelerations of up to 1 g. Such an acceleration occurs during large earthquakes, recurring in the Dead Sea.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)497-504
Number of pages8
JournalEarth and Planetary Science Letters
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - 30 Jul 2005

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank Beny Begin for a constructive review. A. Agnon thanks the German–Israel Binational Science Foundation (GIF) for support. S. Marco was supported by an Israel–US Binational Science Foundation grant #286/97.


  • Dead Sea basin
  • Kelvin-Helmholtz Instability
  • Paleo-earthquake intensity
  • Soft sediment deformation


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