The coseismicity and morphology of the Acheron rock avalanche deposit in the Red Hill valley, New Zealand (2003)
Type of ContentTheses / Dissertations
Thesis DisciplineEngineering Geology
Degree NameMaster of Science
PublisherUniversity of Canterbury
AuthorsSmith, Guyon Matthewshow all
The Acheron rock avalanche is located in the Red Hill valley almost 80 km west of Christchurch and is one of 42 greywacke-derived rock avalanches identified in the central Southern Alps. It overlies the Holocene active Porters Pass Fault; a component of the Porters Pass-Amberley Fault Zone which extends from the Rakaia River to beyond the Waimakariri River. The Porters Pass Fault is a dextral strike-slip fault system viewed as a series of discontinuous fault scarps. The location of the fault trace beneath the deposit suggests it may represent a possible source of seismic shaking resulting in the formation of the Acheron rock avalanche.
The rock mass composition of the rock avalanche source scar is Torlesse Supergroup greywacke consisting of massive sandstone and thinly bedded mudstone sequences dipping steeply north into the centre of the source basin. A stability analysis identified potential instability along shallow north dipping planar defects, and steep south dipping toppling failure planes. The interaction of the defects with bedding is considered to have formed conditions for potential instability most likely triggered by a seismic event.
The dTositional area of the rock avalanche covers 7.2 x 105 m2 with an estimated volume of 9 x 10 m3 The mobilised rock mass volume was calculated at 7.5 x 106 m3• Run out of the debris from the top of the source scar to the distal limit reached 3500m, descending over a vertical fall of almost 700m with an estimated Fahrboschung of 0.2. The run out of the rock avalanche displayed moderate to high mobility, travelling at an estimated maximum velocity of 140-160 km/hour. The rapid emplacement of the deposit is confirmed by highly fragmented internal composition and burial of forest vegetation
New radiocarbon ages from buried wood retrieved from the base of Acheron rock avalanche deposit represents an emplacement age closely post-dating (Wk 12094) 1152 ± 51 years B.P. This differs significantly from a previous radiocarbon age of (NZ547) 500 ± 69 years B.P. and modal lichenometry and weathering-rind thickness ages of approximately 460 ± 10 yrs and 490 ± 50 years B.P. The new age shows no resemblance to an earthquake event around 700- 500 years B.P. on the Porters Pass-Amberley Fault Zone.
The DAN run out simulation using a friction model rheology successfully replicated the long run out and velocity of the Acheron rock avalanche using a frictron angle of 27° and high earth pressure coefficients of 5.5, 5.2, and 5.9. The elevated earth pressure coefficients represent dispersive pressures derived from dynamic fragmentation of the debris within the mobile rock avalanche, supporting the hypothesis of Davies and McSaveney (2002). The DAN model has potential applications for areas prone to large-scale instability in the elevated slopes and steep waterways of the Southern Alps.
A paleoseismic investigation of a newly identified scarp of the Porters Pass Fault partially buried by the rock avalanche was conducted to identify any evidence of a coseismic relationship to the Acheron rock avalanche. This identified three-four fault traces striking at 078°, and a sag pond displaying a sequence of overbank deposits containing two buried soils representing an earthquake event horizon. A 40cm vertical offset of the ponded sediment and lower buried soil horizqn was recorded, which was dated to (Wk 13112 charcoal in palosol) 653 ± 54 years B.P. and (Wk 13034 palosol) 661 ± 34 years B.P. The evidence indicates a fault rupture occurred along the Porters Pass Fault, west of Porters Pass most likely extending to the Red Lakes terraces, post-dating 700 years B.P., resulting in 40cm of vertical displacement and an unknown component of dextral strike slip movement. This event post dates the event one (1000 ± 100 years B.P) at Porters Pass previously considered to represent the most recent rupture along the fault line.
This points to a probable source for resetting of the modal weathering-rind thicknesses and lichen size populations in the Red Hill valley and possibly the Red Lakes terraces. These results suggest careful consideration must be given to the geomorphic and paleoseismic history of a specific site when applying surface dating techniques and furthermore the origin of dates used in literature and their useful range should be verified.
An event at 700-500 years B.P did not trigger the Acheron rock avalanche as previously assumed supporting Howard's conclusions. The lack of similar aged rupture evidence in either of the Porters Pass and Coleridge trenches supports Howard's hypothesis of segmentation of the Porters Pass Fault; where rupture occurs along one fault segment but not along another.
The new rock avalanche age closely post-dating 1200-1100 years B.P. resembles the poorly constrained event one rupture age of 1700-800 years B.P for the Porters Pass Fault and the tighter constrained Round Top event of 1010 ± 50 years B.P. on the Alpine Fault. Eight other rock avalanche deposits spread across the central Southern Alps also resemble the new ages however are unable to be assigned specific earthquake events due to the large associated error bars of± 270 years. This clustering of ages does represent compelling lines of evidence for large magnitude earthquake events occurring over the central Southern Alps.
The presence of a rock avalanche deposit does not signify an earthquake based on the historical evidence in the Southern Alps however clustering of ages does suggest that large Mw >7 earthquakes occurred across the Southern Alps between 1200-900 years BP.