Modelling Submarine Landscape Evolution in Response to Subduction Processes, Northern Hikurangi Margin, New Zealand
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
The steep forearc slope along the northern sector of the obliquely convergent Hikurangi subduction zone is characteristic of non-accretionary and tectonically eroding continental margins, with reduced sediment supply in the trench relative to further south, and the presence of seamount relief on the Hikurangi Plateau. These seamounts influence the subduction process and the structurally-driven geomorphic development of the over-riding margin of the Australian Plate frontal wedge. The Poverty Indentation represents an unusual, especially challenging and therefore exciting location to investigate the tectonic and eustatic effects on this sedimentary system because of: (i) the geometry and obliquity of the subducting seamounts; (ii) the influence of multiple repeated seamount impacts; (iii) the effects of structurally-driven over-steeping and associated widespread occurrence of gravitational collapse and mass movements; and (iv) the development of a large canyon system down the axis of the indentation. High quality bathymetric and backscatter images of the Poverty Indentation submarine re-entrant across the northern part of the Hikurangi margin were obtained by scientists from the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) (Lewis, 2001) using a SIMRAD EM300 multibeam swath-mapping system, hull-mounted on NIWA’s research vessel Tangaroa. The entire accretionary slope of the re-entrant was mapped, at depths ranging from 100 to 3500 metres. The level of seafloor morphologic resolution is comparable with some of the most detailed Digital Elevation Maps (DEM) onshore. The detailed digital swath images are complemented by the availability of excellent high-quality processed multi-channel seismic reflection data, single channel high-resolution 3.5 kHz seismic reflection data, as well as core samples. Combined, these data support this study of the complex interactions of tectonic deformation with slope sedimentary processes and slope submarine geomorphic evolution at a convergent margin. The origin of the Poverty Indentation, on the inboard trench-slope at the transition from the northern to central sectors of the Hikurangi margin, is attributed to multiple seamount impacts over the last c. 2 Myr period. This has been accompanied by canyon incision, thrust fault propagation into the trench fill, and numerous large-scale gravitational collapse structures with multiple debris flow and avalanche deposits ranging in down-slope length from a few hundred metres to more than 40 km. The indentation is directly offshore of the Waipaoa River which is currently estimated to have a high sediment yield into the marine system. The indentation is recognised as the “Sink” for sediments derived from the Waipaoa River catchment, one of two target river systems chosen for the US National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded MARGINS “Source-to-Sink” initiative. The Poverty Canyon stretches 70 km from the continental shelf edge directly offshore from the Waipaoa to the trench floor, incising into the axis of the indentation. The sediment delivered to the margin from the Waipaoa catchment and elsewhere during sea-level high-stands, including the Holocene, has remained largely trapped in a large depocentre on the Poverty shelf, while during low-stand cycles, sediment bypassed the shelf to develop a prograding clinoform sequence out onto the upper slope. The formation of the indentation and the development of the upper branches of the Poverty Canyon system have led to the progressive removal of a substantial part of this prograding wedge by mass movements and gully incision. Sediment has also accumulated in the head of the Poverty Canyon and episodic mass flows contribute significantly to continued modification of the indentation by driving canyon incision and triggering instability in the adjacent slopes. Prograding clinoforms lying seaward of active faults beneath the shelf, and overlying a buried inactive thrust system beneath the upper slope, reveal a history of deformation accompanied by the creation of accommodation space. There is some more recent activity on shelf faults (i.e. Lachlan Fault) and at the transition into the lower margin, but reduced (~2 %) or no evidence of recent deformation for the majority of the upper to mid-slope. This is in contrast to current activity (approximately 24 to 47% shortening) across the lower slope and frontal wedge regions of the indentation. The middle to lower Poverty Canyon represents a structural transition zone within the indentation coincident with the indentation axis. The lower to mid-slope south of the canyon conforms more closely to a classic accretionary slope deformation style with a series of east-facing thrust-propagated asymmetric anticlines separated by early-stage slope basins. North of the canyon system, sediment starvation and seamount impact has resulted in frontal tectonic erosion associated with the development of an over-steepened lower to mid-slope margin, fault reactivation and structural inversion and over-printing. Evidence points to at least three main seamount subduction events within the Poverty Indentation, each with different margin responses: i) older substantial seamount impact that drove the first-order perturbation in the margin, since approximately ~1-2 Ma ii) subducted seamount(s) now beneath Pantin and Paritu Ridge complexes, initially impacting on the margin approximately ~0.5 Ma, and iii) incipient seamount subduction of the Puke Seamount at the current deformation front. The overall geometry and geomorphology of the wider indentation appears to conform to the geometry accompanying the structure observed in sandbox models after the seamount has passed completely through the deformation front. The main morphological features correlating with sandbox models include: i) the axial re-entrant down which the Poverty Canyon now incises; ii) the re-establishment of an accretionary wedge to the south of the indentation axis, accompanied by out-stepping, deformation front propagation into the trench fill sequence, particularly towards the mouth of the canyon; iii) the linear north margin of the indentation with respect to the more arcuate shape of the southern accretionary wedge; and, iv) the set of faults cutting obliquely across the deformation front near the mouth of the canyon. Many of the observed structural and geomorphic features of the Poverty Indentation also correlate well both with other sediment-rich convergent margins where seamount subduction is prevalent particularly the Nankai and Sumatra margins, and the sediment-starved Costa Rican margin. While submarine canyon systems are certainly present on other convergent margins undergoing seamount subduction there appears to be no other documented shelf to trench extending canyon system developing in the axis of such a re-entrant, as is dominating the Poverty Indentation. Ongoing modification of the Indentation appears to be driven by: i) continued smaller seamount impacts at the deformation front, and currently subducting beneath the mid-lower slope, ii) low and high sea-level stands accompanied by variations on sediment flux from the continental shelf, iii) over-steepening of the deformation front and mass movement, particularly from the shelf edge and upper slope.