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Fault growth could be achieved by (1) synchronous increases in displacement and length or (2) rapid fault propagation succeeded by displacement-dominated growth. The second of these growth models (here referred to as the constant length model) is rarely applied to small outcrop-scale faults, yet it can account for many of the geometric and kinematic attributes of these faults. The constant length growth model is supported here using displacement profiles, displacement–length relationships and tip geometries for a system of small strike-slip faults (lengths of 1–200 m and maximum displacements of 0.001–3 m) exposed in a coastal platform in New Zealand. Displacement profiles have variable shapes that mainly reflect varying degrees of fault interaction. Increasing average displacement gradients with increasing fault size (maximum displacement and length) may indicate that the degree of interaction increases with fault size. Horsetail and synthetic splays confined to fault-tip regions are compatible with little fault propagation during much of the growth history. Fault displacements and tip geometries are consistent with a two-stage growth process initially dominated by propagation followed by displacement accumulation on faults with near-constant lengths. Retardation of propagation may arise due to fault interactions and associated reduction of tip stresses, with the early transition from propagation-to displacement-dominated growth stages produced by fault-system saturation (i.e. the onset of interactions between all faults). The constant length growth model accounts for different fault types over a range of scales and may have wide application.

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