Engineering geological investigation of the Lake Coleridge rock avalanche deposits, inland Canterbury (2004)
AuthorsLee, Jenny Aliceshow all
The Lake Coleridge Rock Avalanche Deposits (LCRADs) are located on Ryton Station in the middle Rakaia Valley, approximately 80 km west of Christchurch. Torlesse Supergroup greywacke is the basement material and has been significantly influenced by both active tectonics and glaciation. Both glacial and post-glacial processes have produced large volumes of material which blanket the bedrock on slopes and in the valley floors. The LCRADs were part of a regional study of rock avalanches by WHITEHOUSE (1981, 1983) and WHITEHOUSE and GRIFFITHS (1983), and a single rock avalanche event was recognised with a weathering rind age of 120 years B.P. that was later modified to 150 ± 40 years B.P. The present study has refined details of both the age and the sequence of events at the site, by identifying three separate rock avalanche deposits (termed the LCRA1, LCRA2 and LCRA3 deposits), which are all sourced from near the summit of Carriage Drive.
The LCRA1 deposit is lobate in shape and had an estimated original deposit volume of 12.5 x 10⁶ m³, although erosion by the Ryton River has reduced the present day debris volume to 5.1 x 10⁶ m³. An optically stimulated luminescence date taken from sandy loess immediately beneath the LCRA1 deposit provided a maximum age for the rock avalanche event of 9,720 ± 750 years B.P., which is believed to be realistic given that this is shortly after the retreat of Acheron 3 ice from this part of the valley. Emplacement of rock avalanche material into an ancestral Ryton riverbed created a natural dam with a ~17 M m³ lake upstream. The river is thought to have created a natural spillway over the dam structure at ~557 m (a.s.l), and to have existed for a number of years before any significant downcutting occurred. Although a triggering mechanism for the LCRA1 deposit was poorly constrained, it is thought that stress rebound after glacial ice removal may have initiated failure. Due to the event occurring c.10,000 years ago, there was a lack of definition for a possible earthquake trigger, though the possibility is obvious.
The LCRA₂ event had an original deposit volume of 0.66 x 10⁶ m³, and was constrained to the low-lying area adjacent to the Ryton River that had been created by river erosion of the LCRA1 deposit. Further erosion by the Ryton River has reduced the deposit volume to 0.4 x 10⁶ m³. A radiocarbon date from a piece of mānuka found within the LCRA2 deposit provided an age of 668 ± 36 years B.P., and this is thought to reliably date the event. The LCRA2 event also dammed the Ryton River, and the preservation of dam-break outwash terraces downstream from the deposit provides clear evidence of rapid dam erosion and flooding after overtopping, and breaching by the Ryton River. Based on the mean annual flow of the Ryton River, the LCRA2 lake would have taken approximately two weeks to fill assuming that there were no preferred breach paths and the material was relatively impermeable. The LCRA2 event is thought to have been coseismic with a fault rupture along the western segment of the PPAFZ, which has been dated at 600 ± 100 years B.P. by SMITH (2003).
The small LCRA3 event was not able to be dated, but it is believed to have failed shortly after the LCRA2 event and it may in fact be a lag deposit of the second rock avalanche event possibly triggered by an aftershock. The deposit is only visible at one locality within the cliffs that line the Ryton River, and its lack of geomorphic expression is attributed to it occurring closely after the LCRA2 event, while the Ryton River was still dammed from the second rock avalanche event.
A wedge-block of some 35,000 m³ of source material for a future rock avalanche was identified at the summit of Carriage Drive. The dilation of the rock mass, combined with unfavourably oriented sub-vertical bedding in the Torlesse Supergroup bedrock, has allowed toppling-style failure on both of the main ridge lines around the source area for the LCRADs. In the event of a future rock avalanche occurring within the Ryton riverbed an emergency response plan has been developed to provide a staged response, especially in relation to the camping ground located at the mouth of the Ryton River. A long-term management plan has also been developed for mitigation measures for the Ryton riverbed and adjacent floodplain areas downstream of a future rock avalanche at the LCRAD site.