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Improved earthquake detection as a probe for active fault structures in New Zealand's central Southern Alps

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posted on 15.11.2021, 16:50 by Calum ChamberlainCalum Chamberlain

This thesis concerns the detection and analysis of micro-seismicity and low-frequency earthquakes in New Zealand's central Southern Alps. We make use of the 6.5 year continuous seismic dataset collected using the Southern Alps Microearthquake Borehole Array (SAMBA), alongside other temporary and permanent seismic deployments nearby. The small station spacing of this deployment allows for high resolution seismic studies near the Alpine Fault, a dextral-transpressive plate boundary fault between the Pacific and Australian plates.  Using this dataset we have documented the rst evidence of low-frequency earthquakes on or near the deep extent of the Alpine Fault. By using a network based crosscorrelation detection method we have generated a 3 year catalogue of 14 low-frequency earthquake families. These low-frequency earthquake families locate close to other indicators and models of the deep extent of the Alpine Fault, and we interpret these low-frequency earthquakes to represent shear failure on or near the deep extent of the Alpine Fault. These low-frequency earthquakes highlight a near-continuous background rate of deformation, punctuated by short periods of tremor. We also observe higher rates of low-frequency earthquake generation after large regional earthquakes. The magnitudes of our low-frequency earthquakes range from Mʟ‒0.8‒1.8, and appear to follow an exponential distribution, implying that there might be a characteristic length-scale of failure.  We have extended the catalogue of low-frequency earthquake templates using the full 6.5 year dataset and an objective synthetic detection methodology. We developed a new methodology for template detection after other methods failed, or were not feasible. This method employs simple synthetic template events, which, rather than trying to capture all of the complexities of the body waves we try to detect, approximate a simple waveform that does not correlate well with background noise. To undertake this method we have developed a multi-parallel Python package, which is highly portable (we have run this on computers ranging from dual-core, 8GB RAM laptops to a 393 node, 6349 CPU cluster computer) and distributed via an open-source model. This package was run through the 6.5 year dataset on the New Zealand E-Science PAN cluster to e fficiently (<48 hours clock-time) generate a spatially and temporally continuous catalogue of low-frequency earthquake templates. Using this method to detect an initial suite of over 25,000 detections grouped into 600 families we have generated 600 good quality, discrete stacked waveforms for use in further matched-filter detection routines. We have shown that, for templates with both P and S-phase picks, these templates locate near to our previously determined low-frequency earthquake family locations.  Using a network matched- filter detection technique we have generated a catalogue of micro-seismicity in a region of low-seismicity near the Whataroa Valley, motivated by the Deep-Fault Drilling Project; Phase-2. We detected 300 earthquakes that include a selection of near-repeating earthquakes. We find that most detected events are not similar enough to be termed repeating. For 106 earthquakes we are able to generate high-precision magnitudes calculated by singular-value decomposition of similar waveforms. We find a high b-value of 1.44 for these earthquakes, with no earthquakes above Mʟ1.6. By generating high precision cross-correlation derived picks for individual detections and employing a double-difference location methodology we show that seismicity does not delineate a single structure; rather we interpret the detected seismicity as temporally-limited earthquake sequences on small asperities adjacent to the Alpine Fault. Focal mechanisms for the best recorded events show dominantly strike-slip mechanisms, with lesser reverse and normal components.  During the drilling of the Deep-Fault Drilling Project: Phase-2 borehole we operated a real-time earthquake detection system around the drill-site. This was a multi-national effort involving 16 seismologists in three countries monitoring the automatic detections in shifts. During the 5 month real-time monitoring period we detected and located 493 earthquakes, none of which occurred within 3km of the drill-site, nor required changes to the drilling operations. We undertook this monitoring using open-source software, which employed a standard energy based detection scheme.  This thesis has contributed four complementary earthquake catalogues, a further three years of continuous seismic data from the central Southern Alps, and an opensource Python package for detection and analysis of earthquakes using cross-correlation techniques. The characteristics of these catalogues highlight deformation modes on and near one of the world's major strike-slip plate boundaries, both at depth, and at the upper extent of the seismogenic zone.


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Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Author Retains Copyright

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Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Victoria University of Wellington Unit

Institute of Geophysics

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Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis



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Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Geography, Environment and Earth Sciences


Townend, John; Stern, Tim