Partitioning of plate boundary deformation in South Westland, New Zealand : controls from reactivated structures


Campbell, Heather Gail. 1974-


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The Australian-Pacific plate boundary is an uncomplicated structure along most of its length in the South Island, New Zealand. In South Westland, south of the Arawata River, however, several terranes converge onto the Alpine fault. Inherent anisotropies arising from the position of pre-existing fault structures, lithological contacts and rheological heterogeneities within these give rise to an atypically diffuse and complex zone, the overall geometry of which resembles a regional scale transpressive flower structure.

The flower structure is a broad deformation zone 60 km in length extending approximately 7 km from the Alpine fault to its eastern limit, the Dun Mountain Ophiolite Belt. Integral parts of the structure are the Hollyford Fault System and the Livingstone Fault System. The area is characterised by an array of left-stepping, subparallel faults with an average 060 strike linked by 020 striking structures. All fault traces offset Quaternary features. Fractions of the total interplate slip are partitioned across the reactivated structures. Additionally, kinematic indicators reveal partitioning of strike-slip and oblique/dip-slip deformation across the related secondary fault zones.

The behaviour of the plate boundary zone in South Westland is fundamentally controlled by reactivation of the Hollyford Fault System and the Livingstone Fault System which partition slip away from the Alpine fault. As a consequence, the eastward transferral of slip onto the curved geometry of the converging fault systems has ultimately created a left-stepping contractional regime, the equivalent of a restraining bend in the plate boundary zone. The competent Dun Mountain Ophiolite Belt controls the geometry and evolution of the reactivated structures. It also acts as an indenter and imposes additional boundary conditions adding to the shortening component in the region and the onset of complex transpressional strain patterns.

The geometry and kinematics of the flower structure in the upper crust is mimicked in the ductile mid to lower crust. Upper greenschist facies mylonites reveal a complex fold pattern developed in response to contemporaneous non-coaxial and coaxial deformation. The folding formed during a continuation of deformation associated with mylonitisation at depths within the fault system. The fact that strain localisation and transpressive strain patterns in the brittle crust continue into the ductile zones suggests there is a feedback relationship between the two regimes.

The reactivation of pre-existing structures and the influence of rheological factors are considered as first order factors controlling strain partitioning in the plate boundary zone. Recognition of local strain partitioning is important for assessing slip rates and earthquake recurrence. Similarly, the faults extend down below the seismogenic zone so that interaction of the different structures with each other may produce changes in fault behaviour which affects earthquake nucleation.

Although the Alpine fault is a major structure in the South Island of New Zealand with over 400 km of dextral movement, the reactivated structures still exert a degree of control locally on the structure and kinematics of the plate boundary zone. Reactivation of inherent fault structures has important implications for the initiation of plate boundary faults and the alteration of the plate boundary geometry with evolving deformation.

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xvi, 524 p. : ill., maps ; 30 cm. + 3 maps (folded)


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Campbell, Heather Gail. 1974-, “Partitioning of plate boundary deformation in South Westland, New Zealand : controls from reactivated structures,” Otago Geology Theses, accessed May 28, 2018,