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Durham University

Department of Earth Sciences


Publication details for Professor Christine Peirce

Stratford, W., Peirce, C., Funnell, M., Paulatto, M., Watts, A.B., Grevemeyer, I. & Bassett, D. (2015). Seismic velocity structure and deformation due to collision of the Louisville Ridge with the Tonga-Kermadec Trench. Geophysical Journal International 200(3): 1503-1522.

Author(s) from Durham


New marine geophysical data recorded across the Tonga-Kermadec subduction zone are used to image deformation and seismic velocity structures of the forearc and Pacific Plate where the Louisville Ridge seamount chain subducts. Due to the obliquity of the Louisville Ridge to the trench and the fast 128 mm yr−1 south–southwest migration of the ridge-trench collision zone, post-, current and pre-seamount subduction deformation can be investigated between 23°S and 28°S. We combine our interpretations from the collision zone with previous results from the post- and pre-collision zones to define the along-arc variation in deformation due to seamount subduction. In the pre-collision zone the lower-trench slope is steep, the mid-trench slope has ∼3-km-thick stratified sediments and gravitational collapse of the trench slope is associated with basal erosion by subducting horst and graben structures on the Pacific Plate. This collapse indicates that tectonic erosion is a normal process affecting this generally sediment starved subduction system. In the collision zone the trench-slope decreases compared to the north and south, and rotation of the forearc is manifest as a steep plate boundary fault and arcward dipping sediment in a 12-km-wide, ∼2-km-deep mid-slope basin. A ∼3 km step increase in depth of the middle and lower crustal isovelocity contours below the basin indicates the extent of crustal deformation on the trench slope. At the leading edge of the overriding plate, upper crustal P-wave velocities are ∼4.0 km s−1 and indicate the trench fill material is of seamount origin. Osbourn Seamount on the outer rise has extensional faulting on its western slope and mass wasting of the seamount provides the low Vp material to the trench. In the post-collision zone to the north, the trench slope is smooth, the trench is deep, and the crystalline crust thins at the leading edge of the overriding plate where Vp is low, ∼5.5 km s−1. These characteristics are attributed to a greater degree of extensional collapse of the forearc in the wake of seamount subduction. The northern end of a seismic gap lies at the transition from the smooth lower-trench slope of the post-collision zone, to the block faulted and elevated lower-trench slope in the collision zone, suggesting a causative link between the collapse of the forearc and seismogenesis. Along the forearc, the transient effects of a north-to-south progression of ridge subduction are preserved in the geomorphology, whereas longer-term effects may be recorded in the ∼80 km offset in trench strike at the collision zone itself.