Evidence for Past Subduction Earthquakes at a Plate Boundary with Widespread Upper Plate Faulting: Southern Hikurangi Margin, New Zealand
At the southern Hikurangi margin, New Zealand, we use salt marsh stratigraphy, sedimentology, micropaleontology, and radiocarbon dating to document evidence of two earthquakes producing coseismic subsidence and (in one case) a tsunami over the past 1000 yrs. The earthquake at 520-470 yrs before present (B.P.) produced 0.25 +/- 0.1 m of subsidence at Big Lagoon. The earthquake at 880-800 yrs B.P. produced 0.45 +/- 0.1 m of subsidence at Big Lagoon and was accompanied by a tsunami that inundated >= 360 m inland with a probable height of >= 3.3 m. Distinguishing the effects of upper plate faulting from plate interface earthquakes is a significant challenge at this margin. We use correlation with regional upper plate paleoearthquake chronologies and elastic dislocation modeling to determine that the most likely cause of the subsidence and tsunami events is subduction interface rupture, although the older event may have been a synchronous subduction interface and upper plate fault rupture. The southern Hikurangi margin has had no significant (M > 6.5) documented subduction interface earthquakes in historic times, and previous assumptions that this margin segment is prone to rupture in large to great earthquakes were based on seismic and geodetic evidence of strong contemporary plate coupling. This is the first geologic evidence to confirm that the southern Hikurangi margin ruptures in large earthquakes. The relatively short-time interval between the two subduction earthquakes (similar to 350 yrs) is shorter than in current seismic-hazard models.