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New Perspectives on the Chronostratigraphy and Magmatic Evolution of the Auckland Volcanic Field, New Zealand

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posted on 2021-11-23, 12:40 authored by Jenni Hopkins

Understanding the eruptive history of a volcanically active region is critical in assessing the hazard and risk posed by future eruptions. In regions where surface deposits are poorly preserved, and ambiguously sourced, tephrostratigraphy is a powerful tool to assess the characteristics of past eruptions. The city of Auckland, New Zealand’s largest urban centre and home to ca. 1.4 million people, is built on top of the active Auckland Volcanic Field (AVF). The AVF is an intraplate monogenetic basaltic volcanic field, with ca. 53 eruptive centres located in an area of ca. 360 km2. Little is known however, about the evolution of the field because the numerical and relative ages of the eruptions are only loosely constrained, and therefore the precise order of many eruptions is unknown. Here I apply tephrostratigraphic and geochemical techniques to investigate the chronology and magmatic evolution of the AVF eruptions.  First, I present an improved methodology for in-situ analysis of lacustrine maar cores from the AVF by employing magnetic susceptibility and X-ray density scanning on intact cores. These techniques are coupled with geochemical microanalysis of the tephra-derived glass shards to reveal details of reworking within the cores. These details not only allow assessment of the deposit relationships within cores (e.g. primary vs. reworked horizons), but also to correlate tephra horizons between cores. Through the correlation of tephra units across cores from a variety of locations across the field, an improved regional tephrostratigraphic framework for the AVF deposits has been established.  Following on from this, I detail the methods developed in this study to correlate tephra horizons within the maar cores back to their eruptive source. This technique uses geochemical fingerprinting to link the glass analyses from tephra samples to whole rock compositions. Such an approach has not been previously attempted due to the complications caused by fractional crystallisation, which affects concentrations of certain key elements in whole rock analyses. My method resolves these issues by using incompatible trace elements, which are preferentially retained in melt over crystals, and therefore retain comparable concentrations and concentration ratios between these two types of sample. Because of the primitive nature of the AVF magmas, their trace element signature is largely controlled by the involvement of several distinct mantle sources. This leads to significant variability between the volcanic centres that thus can be used for individually fingerprinting, and correlating tephra to whole rocks. Nevertheless, in some cases geochemistry cannot provide an unambiguous correlation, and a multifaceted approach is required to allow the correlation of the tephra horizons to source. The other criteria used to correlate tephra deposits to their source centre include, Ar-Ar ages of the centres, modelled and calculated ages of the tephra deposits, the scale of eruption, and the deposit locations and thicknesses.  The results of this research outline the methodology for assessing occurrence and characteristics of basaltic tephra horizons within lacustrine maar cores, and the methodology for correlating these horizons to their eruptive source. In doing this the relative eruption order of the AVF is accurately determined for the first time. Temporal trends suggest acceleration of eruption repose periods to 21 ka followed by deceleration to present. Although no spatial evolution is observed, coupling of some centres is seen when spatial and temporal evolution are combined. The geochemical signature of the magmas appears to evolve in a cyclic manner with time, incorporating increasing amount of a shallow source. This evolution is seen both during a single eruption sequence and throughout the lifespan of the AVF.  Finally, pre-eruptive processes are assessed as part of the study of the magmatic evolution of the AVF. The effects of contamination from the crust and lithosphere through which the magma ascends are evaluated using the Re-Os isotope system. The results show there are variable inputs from crustal sources, which have previously not been identified by traditional isotope systems (e.g. Pb-Sr-Nd isotopes). Two sources of contamination are identified based on their Os systematics relating to two terranes beneath the AVF: the metasedimentary crust and the Dun Mountain Ophiolite Belt. The identification of this process suggests there is interaction of ascending melt with the crust, contrary to what previous studies have concluded. This body of research has provided a detailed reconstruction of the chronostratigraphy and magmatic evolution of the AVF to aid accurate and detailed risk assessment of the threat posed by a future eruption from the Auckland Volcanic Field.


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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

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Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code

970104 Expanding Knowledge in the Earth Sciences

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Geography, Environment and Earth Sciences


Wilson, Colin; Leonard, Graham; Timm, Christian