Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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Microseismicity in the central Southern Alps, Westland, New Zealand

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posted on 2021-11-14, 10:07 authored by Boese, Carolin

Present-day seismicity associated with the central Alpine Fault and the zone of active deformation and rock uplift in the central Southern Alps is reported in this thesis. Robust hypocentre locations and magnitude estimates for ~2300 earthquakes have been obtained analysing 18 months of data from the Southern Alps Microearthquake Borehole Array (SAMBA), designed for this study. The earthquakes are distributed between the Alpine Fault and the Main Divide Fault zone and confined to shallow depths (90% of events ≤12.2 km). The thickness of the seismogenic zone follows lateral variations in crustal resistivity: earthquake hypocentres are restricted to depths where resistivities exceed 390 Ω m. Rocks at greater depth are interpreted to be too hot, too fluid-saturated, or too weak to produce detectable earthquakes. A low-seismicity zone extends between the Whataroa and Wanganui rivers at distances 15–30 km southeast of the fault, which is concluded to be a relatively strong, unfractured block that diverts deformation around it. A new magnitude scale is developed incorporating the effects of frequency-dependent attenuation, which enables magnitudes to be calculated consistently for earthquakes of different sizes and frequency contents. Focal mechanism solutions for 379 earthquakes exhibit predominantly strike-slip mechanisms. Inversion of these focal mechanisms to determine the prevailing tectonic stress field reveals a maximum horizontal compressive stress direction of 115±10°, consistent with findings from elsewhere in South Island. The 60° angle between the strike of the Alpine Fault and the direction of maximum horizontal compressive stress suggests that the Alpine Fault is poorly oriented in an Andersonian sense. Earthquake swarms of at least 10 events with similar waveforms frequently occur within the region, of which some were remotely triggered by two major South Island earthquakes. Focal mechanisms of the largest event in each swarm (ML≤2.8) reveal at least one steeply-dipping nodal plane (≥50°) and one well-oriented nodal plane in the tectonic stress field. The swarms exhibit a distinctly different inter-event time versus duration pattern from that of typical mainshock-aftershock sequences. The triggered seismicity commences with the passage of the surface waves, continues for ~5 and ~2 days, and is followed by a quiescence period of approximately equal length. Remotely triggered swarms occur delayed by several hours and their delay and locations are consistent with fluid diffusion from a shallow fluid reservoir. Estimated peak dynamic stresses (≥0.09 MPa) imposed by the surface waves are comparable to observations of triggering thresholds (>0.01 MPa) elsewhere. The triggered swarms have no apparent differences from the background swarms, and appear to have been clock-advanced. Tectonic tremor in the vicinity of the Alpine Fault coincides with a low-velocity, high-attenuation zone at depth. The tremor occurs at the downdip extension of the Alpine Fault and in the region where bending of the Australian and Pacific plates is largest at depths spanning 12–49 km. Similarities with tremor occurring on the San Andreas Fault near Cholame in terms of tremor duration, depth, spatial extent and amplitude distribution, imply property variations in the lower crust and upper mantle along the strike of the Alpine Fault.


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Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Geography, Environment and Earth Sciences


Stern, Tim; Smith, Euan; Townend, John