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Durham University

Department of Earth Sciences


Publication details for Professor Christine Peirce

Funnell, M., Peirce, C., Stratford, W., Paulatto, M., Watts, A.B. & Grevemeyer, I. (2014). Structure and deformation of the Kermadec forearc in response to subduction of the Pacific oceanic plate. Geophysical Journal International 199(2): 1286-1302.

Author(s) from Durham


The Tonga-Kermadec forearc is deforming in response to on-going subduction of the Pacific Plate beneath the Indo-Australian Plate. Previous research has focussed on the structural development of the forearc where large bathymetric features such as the Hikurangi Plateau and Louisville Ridge seamount chain are being subducted. Consequently, knowledge of the ‘background’ forearc in regions of normal plate convergence is limited. We report on an ∼250-km-long multichannel seismic reflection profile that was shot perpendicular to the Tonga-Kermadec trench at ∼28°S to determine the lateral and temporal variations in the structure, stratigraphy and deformation of the Kermadec forearc resulting solely from Pacific Plate subduction.

Interpretation of the seismic profile, in conjunction with regional swath bathymetry data, shows that the Pacific Plate exhibits horst and graben structures that accommodate bending-induced extensional stresses, generated as the trenchward dip of the crust increases. Trench infill is also much thicker than expected at 1 km which, we propose, results from increased sediment flux into and along the trench. Pervasive normal faulting of the mid-trench slope most likely accommodates the majority of the observed forearc extension in response to basal subduction erosion, and a structural high is located between the mid- and upper-trench slopes. We interpret this high as representing a dense and most likely structurally robust region of crust lying beneath this region.

Sediment of the upper-trench slope documents depositional hiatuses and on-going uplift of the arc. Strong along-arc currents appear to erode the Kermadec volcanic arc and distribute this sediment to the surrounding basins, while currents over the forearc redistribute deposits as sediment waves. Minor uplift of the transitional Kermadec forearc, observed just to the north of the profile, appears to relate to an underlying structural trend as well as subduction of the Louisville Ridge seamount chain 250 km to the north. Relative uplift of the Kermadec arc is observed from changes in the tilt of upper-trench slope deposits and extensional faulting of the basement immediately surrounding the Louisville Ridge.