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A focused look at the Alpine fault, New Zealand: seismicity, focal mechanisms, and stress observations Public Deposited

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  • The Alpine fault is the Pacific-Australian plate boundary in the South Island of New Zealand. This study analyzes 195 earthquakes recorded during the 6 month duration of the Southern Alps Passive Seismic Experiment (SAPSE) in 1995/1996 and two M₁. 5.0 earthquakes and aftershocks in 1997, which occurred close to the central part of the Alpine fault. Precise earthquake locations are derived by simultaneous inversion for hypocenter parameters, a one-dimensional velocity model, and station corrections. Together with focal mechanisms calculated using a first motion and amplitude ratio method, these results provide a picture of the seismotectonics in the central South Island over a 6 month period. Moment tensor inversions of three earthquakes provide an independent means of comparison to the focal mechanisms derived using the amplitude/first motion method. To validate our observations over time, we compare the SAPSE seismicity with the seismicity recorded by the New Zealand National Seismic Network (NZNSN) and a local network at Lake Pukaki east of the Southern Alps (6 months versus 8 years). Our study indicates that the Alpine fault releases elastic strain seismically from the surface down to 10-12 km depth between Milford Sound in the south and the Hope fault in the north. The seismicity rate of the Alpine fault is low but comparable to locked sections of the San Andreas fault, with large earthquakes expected. Seismicity decreases north of Bruce Bay at the Alpine fault and within a triangular region along the Alpine fault located between the Hope and Porters Pass fault zones. We interpret this as the result of defonnation distributed on the Alpine fault and the Hope and Porters Pass fault zones. The base of the seismogenic zone is fairly uniform at 12 km ± 2 km over large parts of the South Island. The high Alps region has a shallower base of the seismogenic zone, indicating localized elevated temperatures east of the Alpine fault. Most of the study region deforms under a uniform stress field with a maximum principal horizontal shortening direction of 110°-120°, similar to geodetic observations and plate motions. This confirms that the region is not undergoing strain partitioning. The earthquake data show that the deformation away from the Alpine fault is distributed on mainly NNE trending thrust faults and strike-slip transfer faults with a maximum seismogenic depth of 12 km.
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  • Leitner, B., Eberhart-Phillips, D., Anderson, H., & Nabelek, J. L. (2001). A focused look at the Alpine fault, New Zealand: seismicity, focal mechanisms, and stress observations. Journal of Geophysical Research, 106(B2), 2193-2220.
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  • 106
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  • New Zealand Foundation for Research Science and Technology. U.S. NSF Continental Dynamics program (EAR-9418530). GeoSphere Exploration Ltd. Otago University, Dunedin.Institute of Geological and Nuclear Sciences.
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