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Large earthquakes in the macquarie ridge complex: Transitional tectonics and subduction initiation

Ruff, Larry J. and Given, Jeffrey W. and Sanders, Chris O. and Sperber, Christine M. (1989) Large earthquakes in the macquarie ridge complex: Transitional tectonics and subduction initiation. Pure and Applied Geophysics, 129 (1-2). pp. 71-129. ISSN 0033-4553. doi:10.1007/BF00874625.

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While most aspects of subduction have been extensively studied, the process of subduction initiation lacks an observational foundation. The Macquarie Ridge complex (MRC) forms the Pacific-Australia plate boundary between New Zealand to the north and the Pacific-Australia-Antarctica triple junction to the south. The MRC consists of alternating troughs and rises and is characterized by a transitional tectonic environment in which subduction initiation presently occurs. There is a high seismicity level with 15 large earthquakes (M>7) in this century. Our seismological investigation is centered on the largest event since 1943: the 25 MAY 1981 earthquake. Love, Rayleigh, andP waves are inverted to find: a faulting geometry of right-lateral strike-slip along the local trend of the Macquarie Ridge (N30°E); a seismic moment of 5×10^(27) dyn cm (M_w=7.7) a double event rupture process with a fault length of less than 100km to the southwest of the epicenter and a fault depth of less than 20km. Three smaller thrust earthquakes occurred previous to the 1981 event along the 1981 rupture zone; their shallow-dipping thrust planes are virtually adjacent to the 1981 vertical fault plane. Oblique convergence in this region is thus accommodated by a dual rupture mode of several small thrust events and a large strike-slip event. Our study of other large MRC earthquakes, plus those of other investigators, produces focal mechanisms for 15 earthquakes distributed along the entire MRC; thrust and right-lateral strike-slip events are scattered throughout the MRC. Thus, all of the MRC is characterized by oblique convergence and the dual rupture mode. The “true” best-fit rotation pole for the Pacific-Australia motion is close to the Minster & Jordan RM2 pole for the Pacific-India motion. Southward migration of the rotation pole has caused the recent transition to oblique convergence in the northern MRC. We propose a subduction initiation process that is akin to crack propagation; the 1981 earthquake rupture area is identified as the “crack-tip” region that separates a disconnected mosaic of small thrust faults to the south from a horizontally continuous thrust interface to the north along the Puysegur trench. A different mechanism of subduction initiation occurs in the southernmost Hjort trench region at the triple junction. newly created oceanic lithosphere has been subducted just to the north of the triple junction. The entire MRC is a “soft” plate boundary that must accommodate the plate motion mismatch between two major spreading centers (Antarctica-Australia and Pacific-Antarctica). The persistence of spreading motion at the two major spreading centers and the consequent evolution of the three-plate system cause the present-day oblique convergence and subduction initiation in the Macquarie Ridge complex.

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Additional Information:© 1989 Birkhäuser Verlag. Received: 01 August 1986; Revised: 01 December 1987; Accepted: 01 January 1988.
Group:Seismological Laboratory
Subject Keywords:Earthquakes; seismotectonics; subduction initiation; soft plate boundary
Issue or Number:1-2
Record Number:CaltechAUTHORS:20170725-141827488
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Official Citation:Ruff, L.J., Given, J.W., Sanders, C.O. et al. PAGEOPH (1989) 129: 71.
Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:79347
Deposited By: Tony Diaz
Deposited On:25 Jul 2017 22:02
Last Modified:15 Nov 2021 17:47

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