Research Article

Complex multifault rupture during the 2016 Mw 7.8 Kaikōura earthquake, New Zealand

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Science  14 Apr 2017:
Vol. 356, Issue 6334, eaam7194
DOI: 10.1126/science.aam7194

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An earthquake with a dozen faults

The 2016 moment magnitude (Mw) 7.8 Kaikōura earthquake was one of the largest ever to hit New Zealand. Hamling et al. show with a new slip model that it was an incredibly complex event. Unlike most earthquakes, multiple faults ruptured to generate the ground shaking. A remarkable 12 faults ruptured overall, with the rupture jumping between faults located up to 15 km away from each other. The earthquake should motivate rethinking of certain seismic hazard models, which do not presently allow for this unusual complex rupture pattern.

Science, this issue p. eaam7194

Structured Abstract

INTRODUCTION

On 14 November 2016 (local time), northeastern South Island of New Zealand was struck by a major moment magnitude (Mw) 7.8 earthquake. The Kaikōura earthquake was the most powerful experienced in the region in more than 150 years. The whole of New Zealand reported shaking, with widespread damage across much of northern South Island and in the capital city, Wellington. The earthquake straddled two distinct seismotectonic domains, breaking multiple faults in the contractional North Canterbury fault zone and the dominantly strike-slip Marlborough fault system.

RATIONALE

Earthquakes are conceptually thought to occur along a single fault. Although this is often the case, the need to account for multiple segment ruptures challenges seismic hazard assessments and potential maximum earthquake magnitudes. Field observations from many past earthquakes and numerical models suggest that a rupture will halt if it has to step over a distance as small as 5 km to continue on a different fault. The Kaikōura earthquake’s complexity defies many conventional assumptions about the degree to which earthquake ruptures are controlled by fault segmentation and provides additional motivation to rethink these issues in seismic hazard models.

RESULTS

Field observations, in conjunction with interferometric synthetic aperture radar (InSAR), Global Positioning System (GPS), and seismology data, reveal the Kaikōura earthquake to be one of the most complex earthquakes ever recorded with modern instrumental techniques. The rupture propagated northward for more than 170 km along both mapped and unmapped faults before continuing offshore at the island’s northeastern extent. A tsunami of up to 3 m in height was detected at Kaikōura and at three other tide gauges along the east coast of both the North and South Islands. Geodetic and geological field observations reveal surface ruptures along at least 12 major crustal faults and extensive uplift along much of the coastline. Surface displacements measured by GPS and satellite radar data show horizontal offsets of ~6 m. In addition, a fault-bounded block (the Papatea block) was uplifted by up to 8 m and translated south by 4 to 5 m. Modeling suggests that some of the faults slipped by more than 20 m, at depths of 10 to 15 km, with surface slip of ~10 m consistent with field observations of offset roads and fences. Although we can explain most of the deformation by crustal faulting alone, global moment tensors show a larger thrust component, indicating that the earthquake also involved some slip along the southern end of the Hikurangi subduction interface, which lies ~20 km beneath Kaikōura. Including this as a fault source in the inversion suggests that up to 4 m of predominantly reverse slip may have occurred on the subduction zone beneath the crustal faults, contributing ~10 to 30% of the total moment.

CONCLUSION

Although the unusual multifault rupture observed in the Kaikōura earthquake may be partly related to the geometrically complex nature of the faults in this region, this event emphasizes the importance of reevaluating how rupture scenarios are defined for seismic hazard models in plate boundary zones worldwide.

Observed ground deformation from the 2016 Kaikōura, New Zealand, earthquake.

(A and B) Photos showing the coastal uplift of 2 to 3 m associated with the Papatea block [labeled in (C)]. The inset in (A) shows an aerial view of New Zealand. Red lines denote the location of known active faults. The black box indicates the Marlborough fault system. (C) Three-dimensional displacement field derived from satellite radar data. The vectors represent the horizontal displacements, and the colored background shows the vertical displacements.

Abstract

On 14 November 2016, northeastern South Island of New Zealand was struck by a major moment magnitude (Mw) 7.8 earthquake. Field observations, in conjunction with interferometric synthetic aperture radar, Global Positioning System, and seismology data, reveal this to be one of the most complex earthquakes ever recorded. The rupture propagated northward for more than 170 kilometers along both mapped and unmapped faults before continuing offshore at the island’s northeastern extent. Geodetic and field observations reveal surface ruptures along at least 12 major faults, including possible slip along the southern Hikurangi subduction interface; extensive uplift along much of the coastline; and widespread anelastic deformation, including the ~8-meter uplift of a fault-bounded block. This complex earthquake defies many conventional assumptions about the degree to which earthquake ruptures are controlled by fault segmentation and should motivate reevaluation of these issues in seismic hazard models.

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