Articles | Volume 12, issue 6
Research article
 | Highlight paper
27 Jun 2012
Research article | Highlight paper |  | 27 Jun 2012

Building an 18 000-year-long paleo-earthquake record from detailed deep-sea turbidite characterisation in Poverty Bay, New Zealand

H. Pouderoux, G. Lamarche, and J.-N. Proust

Abstract. Two ~20 m-long sedimentary cores collected in two neighbouring mid-slope basins of the Paritu Turbidite System in Poverty Bay, east of New Zealand, show a high concentration of turbidites (5 to 6 turbidites per meter), interlaid with hemipelagites, tephras and a few debrites. Turbidites occur as both stacked and single, and exhibit a range of facies from muddy to sandy turbidites. The age of each turbidite is estimated using the statistical approach developed in the OxCal software from an exceptionally dense set of tephrochronology and radiocarbon ages (~1 age per meter). The age, together with the facies and the petrophysical properties of the sediment (density, magnetic susceptibility and P-wave velocity), allows the correlation of turbidites across the continental slope (1400–2300 m water depth). We identify 73 synchronous turbidites, named basin events, across the two cores between 819 ± 191 and 17 729 ± 701 yr BP. Compositional, foraminiferal and geochemical signatures of the turbidites are used to characterise the source area of the sediment, the origin of the turbidity currents, and their triggering mechanism. Sixty-seven basin events are interpreted as originated from slope failures on the upper continental slope in water depth ranging from 150 to 1200 m. Their earthquake trigger is inferred from the heavily gullied morphology of the source area and the water depth at which slope failures originated. We derive an earthquake mean return time of ~230 yr, with a 90% probability range from 10 to 570 yr. The earthquake chronology indicates cycles of progressive decrease of earthquake return times from ~400 yr to ~150 yr at 0–7 kyr, 8.2–13.5 kyr, 14.7–18 kyr. The two 1.2 kyr-long intervals in between (7–8.2 kyr and 13.5–14.7 kyr) correspond to basin-wide reorganisations with anomalous turbidite deposition (finer deposits and/or non deposition) reflecting the emplacement of two large mass transport deposits much more voluminous than the "classical" earthquake-triggered turbidites. Our results show that the progressive characterisation of a turbidite record from a single sedimentary system can provide a continuous paleo-earthquake history in regions of short historical record and incomplete onland paleo-earthquake evidences. The systematic description of each turbidite enables us to infer the triggering mechanism.