Structure, seismicity and tectonics of the Porter's Pass-Amberley fault zone, North Canterbury, New Zealand (1992)
Type of ContentTheses / Dissertations
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
PublisherUniversity of Canterbury. Geology
AuthorsCowan, Hugh Allistershow all
The Porter's Pass-Amberley Fault Zone (PPAFZ) is a complex zone of anastomosing faults and folds bounding the south-eastern edge of the transition from subducting Pacific Plate to continental collision on the Australia Plate boundary. This study combines mapping of a 2000 km2 zone from the Southern Alps northeast to the coast near Amberley, 40 km north of metropolitan Christchurch, with an analysis of seismicity and a revision of regional seismic hazard. Three structural styles: 1) a western strike-slip, and 2) a more easterly thrust and reverse domain, pass into 3) a northwest verging fold belt on the northern Canterbury Plains, reflecting the structural levels exposed and the evolving west to east propagation. Basal remnants of a Late Cretaceous-Cenozoic, largely marine sedimentary cover sequence are preserved as outliers that unconformably overlie Mesozoic basement (greywacke and argillite of the Torlesse terrain) in the mountains of the PPAFZ and are underlain by a deeply leached zone which is widely preserved. Structure contouring of the unconformity surface indicates maximum, differential uplift of c.2600 m in the southwest, decreasing to c.1200 m in the coastal fold belt to the northeast. Much lower rates (or reversal) of uplift are evident a few kilometres southeast of the PPAFZ range-front escarpment. The youngest elements of the cover sequence are basement-derived conglomerates of Plio-Pleistocene age preserved on the SE margin. The source is more distant than the intervening mountains of the PPAFZ, probably from the Southern Alps, to the west and northwest. The absence of another regional unconformity on Mesozoic basement, older than Pleistocene, indicates that this uplift is post-Pliocene. Late Pleistocene(<100 kyr) differential uplift rates of c.0.5-2.7 m/kyr from uplifted marine terraces at the east coast, and rates of 2.5-3.3 m/kyr for tectonically-induced river-down cutting further west, suggest that uplift commenced locally during the last 1 Ma, and possibly within the last 0.5 Ma, if average rates are assumed to be uniform over time. Analysis of seismicity, recorded during a 10 week regional survey of micro earthquakes in 1990, identified two seismic zones beneath North Canterbury: 1) a sub-horizontal zone of activity restricted to the upper crust (≤12 km); and 2) a seismic zone in the lower crust (below a ceiling of ≤17 km), that broadens vertically to the north and northwest to a depth of c.40 km, with a bottom edge which dips 10°N and 15°NW, respectively. No events were recorded at depths between 12 km and 17 km, which is interpreted as a relatively aseismic, mid-crustal ductile layer. Marked differences (up to 60°) in the trend of strain axes for events above and below the inferred ductile layer are observed only north of the PPAFZ. A fundamental, north-to-south increase in the Wave-length of major geological structures occurs across the PPAFZ, and is interpreted as evidence that the upper crust beneath the Canterbury Plains is coupled to the lower crust, whereas the upper crust further north is not. Most of the recorded micro earthquakes <12 km deep beneath the PPAFZ have strike-slip mechanisms. It is probable that faults splay upward into the thrusts and folds at the surface as an evolving transpression zone in response to deep shear in basement. There have been no historic surface ruptures of the PPAFZ, but the zone has been characterised historically by frequent small earthquakes. Paleoseismic data (dated landslides and surface ruptures) compiled in this study, indicate a return period of 1500-1900 years between the last two M>7-7.5 earthquakes, and 500-700 years have elapsed since the last. The magnitudes of these events are estimated at c.M7.5, which represents a probable maximum magnitude for the PPAFZ. There are insufficient data to determine whether or not the frequency of large earthquakes conforms to a recognised model of behaviour, but comparison of the paleoseismic data with the historic record of smaller earthquakes, suggests that the magnitudes of the largest earthquakes in this zone are not exponentially distributed. A seismicity model for the PPAFZ (Elder et al., 1991) is reviewed, and a b-value of 1.0 is found to be consistent with the newly acquired paleoseismic data. This b-value reduces the predicted frequency of large earthquakes (M≥7.0) in this zone by a factor of 3.5, while retaining a conservative margin that allows for temporal variations in the frequency of large events and the possibility that the geological database is incomplete, suggesting grounds for revising the hazard model for Christchurch.