We studied the applicability of classical scarp degradation modelling to active normal faults in the Lower Rhine Embayment. Our quantitative analysis was conducted on the frontal Bree fault scarp (Feldbiss fault) in Belgium and the Peel fault scarp near the city of Neer in the Netherlands. Vertical offset and diffusion age of these scarps have been modelled from elevation profiles across the studied faults using the diffusion equation. For that purpose, a computer-program (profil 2000) has been written, providing a sensitivity analysis of the determined parameters in function of the spatial repartition of the elevation measurements along the considered profiles. The results of this morphometric analysis have been validated by a comparison with the geologic record of the tectonic activity observed in the trenches excavated at the sites where the measurements have been conducted.
We conclude that the modelling can only be applied to study tectonic activity since the Last Glacial Maximum (±14-19 kyr BP) because the surface expression of older paleoearthquakes in unconsolidated Late Pleistocene sediments has been erased by the strong erosive phase that occurred at the end of this glacial period. Even for Holocene scarps, morphologic dating seems very difficult because man-made perturbations destroyed surface evidence of the very recent fault activity in many sites. Nevertheless, we estimate that an appropriate value for the mass diffusivity constant for~ 1-m-high scarps in the investigated region is 0.002 to 0.010 m2/yr. On the other hand, vertical offsets can be determined with a good precision. These amount to respectively ~1 m and 1,3 m since the Last Glacial Maximum on the Feldbiss fault in Belgium and the Peel fault near Roermond in the Netherlands.