ABSTRACT

The Alpine fault is a high slip‐rate plate boundary fault that poses a significant seismic hazard to southern and central New Zealand. To date, the strongest paleoseismic evidence for the onshore southern and central sections indicates that the fault typically ruptures during very large (Mw7.7) to great “full‐section” earthquakes. Three paleoseismic trenches excavated at the northeastern end of its central section at the Toaroha River (Staples site) provide new insights into its surface‐rupture behavior. Paleoseismic ruptures in each trench have been dated using the best‐ranked radiocarbon dating fractions, and stratigraphically and temporally correlated between each trench. The preferred timings of the four most recent earthquakes are 1813–1848, 1673–1792, 1250–1580, and 10841276 C.E. (95% confidence intervals using OxCal 4.4). These surface‐rupture dates correlate well with reinterpreted timings of paleoearthquakes from previous trenches excavated nearby and with the timing of shaking‐triggered turbidites in lakes along the central section of the Alpine fault. Results from these trenches indicate the most recent rupture event (MRE) in this area postdates the great 1717 C.E. Alpine fault rupture (the most recent full‐section rupture of the southern and central sections). This MRE probably occurred within the early nineteenth century and is reconciled as either: (a) a “partial‐section” rupture of the central section; (b) a northern section rupture that continued to the southwest; or (c) triggered slip from a Hope‐Kelly fault rupture at the southwestern end of the Marlborough fault system (MFS). Although, no single scenario is currently favored, our results indicate that the behavior of the Alpine fault is more complex in the north, as the plate boundary transitions into the MFS. An important outcome is that sites or towns near fault intersections and section ends may experience strong ground motions more frequently due to locally shorter rupture recurrence intervals.

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