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Stress transition from horizontal to vertical forces during subduction initiation

Shuck, Brandon and Gulick, Sean P. S. and Van Avendonk, Harm J. A. and Gurnis, Michael and Sutherland, Rupert and Stock, Joann and Hightower, Erin (2022) Stress transition from horizontal to vertical forces during subduction initiation. Nature Geoscience, 15 (2). pp. 149-155. ISSN 1752-0894. doi:10.1038/s41561-021-00880-4.

[img] Image (JPEG) (Extended Data Fig. 1: Seismicity and location of the subducting slab at the Puysegur plate boundary) - Supplemental Material
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[img] Image (JPEG) (Extended Data Fig. 2: Gravity map of the Puysegur margin) - Supplemental Material
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[img] Image (JPEG) (Extended Data Fig. 3: Seismic reflection image of the Tauru Fault Zone) - Supplemental Material
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[img] Image (JPEG) (Extended Data Fig. 4: Seismic reflection image of the S3N structure) - Supplemental Material
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[img] Image (JPEG) (Extended Data Fig. 5: Seismic reflection image of the S3S structure) - Supplemental Material
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[img] Image (JPEG) (Extended Data Fig. 6: Seismic reflection image of the S1 structure) - Supplemental Material
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[img] Image (JPEG) (Extended Data Fig. 7: Seismic reflection image of the EW9601-P1 profile) - Supplemental Material
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[img] Image (JPEG) (Extended Data Fig. 8: Global compilation of subduction initiation events in the last ~110 Ma from the SZI Database 1.0 (Crameri et al., 6)) - Supplemental Material
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[img] Image (JPEG) (Extended Data Fig. 9: Schematic of 4D force evolution during subduction initiation (modified after Gurnis et al., 2004)) - Supplemental Material
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Image (JPEG) (Extended Data Table 1 Measured throw (m) across fault planes for each unit horizon top) - Supplemental Material
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Subduction zones are fundamental to plate tectonics, yet how they initiate remains enigmatic. Geodynamic models suggest that if horizontal forces dominate, the upper plate experiences compression and uplift followed by extension and subsidence, whereas vertically forced subduction involves only extension. Geologic evidence of past subduction initiation events has been interpreted in terms of these alternatives; however, it is unclear whether they are mutually exclusive or represent different stages of early subduction. Here, we present seismic images of the Puysegur plate boundary south of New Zealand that reveal space–time relations of stress during subduction initiation. Our data show evidence for a stress transition (compression followed by extension) that spread from north to south as the trench nucleated and propagated along the plate boundary. Both the magnitude and duration of compression diminish from north (8 Myr) to south (5 Myr). This indicates that transition to self-sustaining subduction accelerates after nucleation of a downgoing slab increases driving forces and decreases fault strength near the propagating tipline of the nascent trench. Instead of horizontally forced versus vertically forced initiation, we propose a four-dimensional evolution, where horizontal forces initially dominate at the site of nucleation, but with time, vertical forces accelerate, propagate along strike and facilitate the development of self-sustaining subduction.

Item Type:Article
Related URLs:
URLURL TypeDescription ReadCube access ItemSeismic data geophysical data ItemGlobal Centroid-Moment-Tensor (CMT) Project ItemEarthquake moment tensors ItemRegional bathymetry data ItemGravity grids ItemGeneric Mapping Tools (GMT) software
Shuck, Brandon0000-0003-2543-721X
Gulick, Sean P. S.0000-0003-4740-9068
Van Avendonk, Harm J. A.0000-0002-8016-2653
Gurnis, Michael0000-0003-1704-597X
Sutherland, Rupert0000-0001-7430-0055
Stock, Joann0000-0003-4816-7865
Hightower, Erin0000-0002-4734-5159
Additional Information:© 2022 Nature Publishing Group. Received 18 May 2021; Accepted 07 December 2021; Published 10 February 2022. We thank the captain, crew and science party of the RV Marcus Langseth for their efforts during the South Island Subduction Initiation Experiment. Thank you to the University of Texas Institute for Geophysics (UTIG) Marine Geology and Geophysics group for fruitful discussion and feedback, which enhanced this work. Research in this manuscript was supported by the National Science Foundation through awards OCE-1654689 (UT Austin), OCE-1654766 and OCE-2049086 (Caltech). B.S. is grateful for support from a UTIG Ewing and Worzel Graduate Fellowship. This is UTIG contribution no. 3864. Data availability: Uninterpreted and interpreted seismic images shown in this study can be found in the Extended Data (Extended Data Figs. 3–7). Seismic data from the SISIE expedition are available through the Marine Geoscience Data System ( Underway geophysical data from MGL1803 are available from the Rolling Deck Repository ( Earthquake moment tensors can be accessed online from the gCMT ( and GeoNet ( catalogues. Regional bathymetry data are available through NIWA ( and gravity grids from GNS Science ( Code availability: Maps were generated using the Generic Mapping Tools (GMT) software ( Author Contributions: H.J.A.V.A., S.P.S.G., M.G., J.S. and R.S. led acquisition of the SISIE seismic dataset. B.S. conceived the study, reprocessed the EW9601-P1 seismic data and wrote the bulk of the manuscript. B.S. and S.P.S.G. conducted the detailed interpretation of seismic reflection data. S.P.S.G. and H.J.A.V.A. oversaw the project and the analyses. M.G. and R.S. were instrumental in developing the conceptual model of subduction initiation. All authors contributed to writing the manuscript through edits and the concepts outlined in this paper through feedback and discussions. The authors declare no competing interests. Peer review information: Nature Geoscience thanks Fabio Crameri, Susan Ellis and Marc-Andre Gutscher for their contribution to the peer review of this work. Primary Handling Editor: Rebecca Neely, in collaboration with the Nature Geoscience team.
Group:Seismological Laboratory
Funding AgencyGrant Number
University of Texas Institute for GeophysicsUNSPECIFIED
Subject Keywords:Geodynamics; Seismology; Structural geology; Tectonics
Issue or Number:2
Record Number:CaltechAUTHORS:20220211-236563500
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Official Citation:Shuck, B., Gulick, S.P.S., Van Avendonk, H.J.A. et al. Stress transition from horizontal to vertical forces during subduction initiation. Nat. Geosci. 15, 149–155 (2022).
Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:113433
Deposited By: Tony Diaz
Deposited On:12 Feb 2022 00:25
Last Modified:12 Feb 2022 00:25

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