Abstract

New-Caledonia island consists of an ultramafic nappe thrusted over a continental and arc-derived basement as the result of the closure of a back-arc basin during the upper Eocene. The morphology of New-Caledonia is mostly characterized by its elongated shape and rectilinear coastline. Indeed, the western and eastern edges of the island are delineated by N140 trending normal faults that are well imaged on seismic lines. Major tectonic lineaments onland, including the scarps corresponding to the main boundary of the ultramafic nappe, also trend N140 suggesting a morphotectonic control by faults having similar kinematics (longitudinal flexure-fault of previous authors). We provide detailed observations from some of these scarps demonstrating indeed that these are not erosional features in origin. We explore the possibility that such surfaces do represent major tectonic limits that accommodated extension and significant tectonic thinning of both the peridotite nappe and its basement. Remnants of a complex extensional fault zone, 200 m wide, are still preserved along the western scarp of the Mont Dore mountain, close to Nouméa city. The deformed zone is composed of an early shallow dipping detachment fault, some decimeters thick, offset by a group of late high angle normal faults and is bounded by cataclastic breccias that progressively pass into the fractured host peridotite. The late high angle fault zones have been the site of important syn-tectonic fluid circulation and are underlined by cm-thick silica infills bearing vertical striae. Typical morphology of the main scarps with break of slope is related to the combination of high angle normal faults and low angle detachment. Similar shallow dipping detachment surfaces have been observed along the east coast of southern New-Caledonia as well as within the ultramafic nappe itself and its basement. This study confirms that N140 oriented, large fault zones, with pure-normal to transtensional component of displacement, controlled the morphotectonic evolution of New-Caledonia at the regional scale, after the obduction of ophiolite nappe at the end of the Eocene. Such a fact has to be taken into account when attempting to reconstruct the post-obduction evolution of the island and more particularly when considering the development and distribution of the Ni-rich lateritic surfaces.

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