The development of trench-slope basins on subduction wedges is strongly related to subduction processes. These confined basins form on the lower trench slope, and their edges consist of structurally controlled linear bathymetric highs. In this particular setting, sedimentary processes may be controlled both by tectonism and by sea-level changes. Thus, the study of the sedimentary record may permit evaluation of the spatial and temporal contribution of tectonic activity on the development and stratigraphic evolution of trench-slope basins.
The recent evolution of the Hikurangi subduction wedge (North Island of New Zealand) is characterized by the uplift and subaerial emergence of the trench–slope break, which has provided good exposure of the Miocene Akitio trench-slope basin. Identification of the main sedimentary discontinuities, reconstruction of the geometry of the sedimentary units, and paleocurrent studies were undertaken in the Akitio basin in order to propose a stratigraphic and structural scheme for the evolution of this emerged trench–slope break.
Deep-sea facies associations are representative of three main fine-grained gravity-driven systems that may develop during various stages of development of mature trench-slope basins. These are, from base to top, large submarine slides (olistostrome deposits), fine-grained sand-rich submarine fans, and low-gradient submarine ramps (sheet-like turbidites). This basin-fill megasequence constitutes a lowstand systems tract, which can be subdivided into basin-floor fan, slope fan, and prograding-wedge complex. Slope facies associations are common and highlight the important contribution of slope processes to the basin sediment budget.
Rapid shifts of facies and important paleoenvironmental changes, reflecting slope creation or modification, characterize five major discontinuities that are related to regional tectonic events (i.e., onset of subduction at 25 Ma, beginning of regional subsidence at 15 Ma) or local tectonic events (i.e., local uplift of structural edges of the Akitio trench-slope basin at 17.5 Ma and 16.5 Ma, acceleration of subsidence at 13.2 Ma). Moreover, we show that the timing of development of some lowstand system tracts (i.e., of slope fans and of prograding-wedge complexes) may also be controlled largely by changes in style and/or amplitude of tectonic activity.