Peridotite xenoliths entrained in magmas near the Alpine fault (New Zealand) provide the first direct evidence of deformation associated with the propagation of the Australian-Pacific plate boundary through the region at ca. 25–20 Ma. Two of 11 sampled xenolith localities contain fine-grained (40–150 μm) rocks, indicating that deformation in the upper mantle was focused in highly sheared zones. To constrain the nature and conditions of deformation, we combine a flow law with a model linking recrystallized fraction to strain. Temperatures calculated from this new approach (625–970 °C) indicate that the observed deformation occurred at depths of 25–50 km. Calculated shear strains were between 1 and 100, which, given known plate offset rates (10–20 mm/yr) and an estimated interval during which deformation likely occurred (<1.8 m.y.), translate to a total shear zone width in the range 0.2–32 km. This narrow width and the position of mylonite-bearing localities amid mylonite-free sites suggest that early plate boundary deformation was distributed across at least ~60 km but localized in multiple fault strands. Such upper mantle deformation is best described by relatively rigid, plate-like domains separated by rapidly formed, narrow mylonite zones.

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