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Neotectonics and Paleoseismicity of a Major Junction Between Two Strands of the Awatere Fault, South Island, New Zealand

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posted on 2021-11-01, 22:17 authored by Mason, Dougal P M

In northeastern South Island, New Zealand, obliquely-convergent relativemotion between the Pacific and Australian plates is accommodated by slip acrossactive dextral-oblique faults in the Marlborough fault system. The Awatere Fault isone of four principal active strike-slip faults within this plate boundary zone, andincludes two sections (the eastern and Molesworth sections) that have differentstrikes and that join across a complex fault junction in the upper Awatere Valley.

Detailed mapping of the fault traces and measurement of 97 geomorphicdisplacements along the Awatere Fault in the vicinity of the fault junction show thatthe eastern and Molesworth sections of the fault intersect one another at a low angle(10-15º), at the eastern end of an internally faulted, elongate, ~15 km long and up to3 km wide fault wedge or sliver. The region between the fault sections is split by aseries of discontinuous, en-echelon scarps that are oriented from ~10º to 20-30ºclockwise from the principal fault sections. Based on other observations ofdiscontinuities in strike-slip earthquake ruptures around the globe, this low-angleintersection geometry suggests that the junction between these fault sections may notact as a significant barrier to earthquake rupture propagation. This interpretation ofthe mechanical significance of the fault junction to earthquake ruptures is counter toprevious suggestions, but is supported by new paleoseismic data from fourpaleoseismic trenches excavated on each side of the junction. In a new paleoseismictrench on the Molesworth section at Saxton River, 18 km to the west of the junction,up to ten surface-rupturing events in the past ~15 ka are recognised from 12radiocarbon ages and 1 optically stimulated luminescence age. In two new trencheson the eastern section near to Upcot Saddle, 12 km northeast of the fault junction,five events took place in the past 5.5 ka, based on 21 radiocarbon ages. Thischronology from Upcot Saddle is combined with data from two previous trencheslocated ~55 km to the northeast at Lake Jasper, to infer nine events on the easternsection since 8330-8610 cal. years B.P. These well-dated events on the easternsection are compared to those on the Molesworth section to the west of the faultjunction. At 95% confidence, five events on both sections have occurred withstatistical contemporaneity since ~6 ka B.P. These five events may have rupturedboth the eastern and Molesworth sections simultaneously, in accordance with the interpretation that the fault section junction does not arrest rupture propagation.

Alternatively, these events may have been separate earthquakes that occurred withinthe statistical resolution provided by radiocarbon dating.

The most recent event to rupture the eastern section was the Mw ~7.5 1848Marlborough earthquake. The coseismic slip distribution and maximum traceablelength of this surface rupture are calculated from the magnitude and distribution ofsmall, metre-scale geomorphic displacements attributable to this earthquake. Thesedata suggest this event ruptured >100-110 km of the eastern section, with meansurface displacement of 5.3 ±1.6 m. Based on these parameters, the momentmagnitude of this earthquake would be Mw 7.4-7.7. This magnitude estimate isindistinguishable from previous calculations that were based on attenuation ofshaking intensity isoseismals that were assigned from contemporary historicalaccounts of that earthquake. On the basis of similar rupture lengths and coseismicdisplacements, it is inferred that the penultimate event had a similar momentmagnitude to the 1848 earthquake.

Horizontal displacement of a flight of 6 fluvial terraces at Saxton River by theMolesworth section of the Awatere Fault is constrained to have occurred at a nearconstantrate of 5.5 ±1.5 mm/a since ~15 ka B.P. These rates are based on two newoptically stimulated luminescence ages for the highest terrace treads of 14.5 ±1.5 and6.69 ±0.74 ka B.P. These rates are indistinguishable from recent strike-slip rateestimates for the eastern section of 5.6 ±1.1 and 6 ±2 mm/a. Comparing themagnitudes and ages of the terrace riser displacements at Saxton River to the timingof paleoearthquakes on the Molesworth section implies a mean per-eventdisplacement of 4.4 ±0.2 m since ~15 ka. The new terrace ages also record twoperiods of aggradation that post-date the Last Glacial Maximum.


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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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Master of Science

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Geography, Environment and Earth Sciences


Little, Tim