Formation and Evolution of the San Cristobal Trough Transform Fault Linking the Southern Solomon Islands and Northern New Hebrides Trenches

Thursday, 18 December 2014
Kevin P Furlong1, Gavin P Hayes2, Matthew W Herman1 and Harley Benz2, (1)Penn State Univ, University Park, PA, United States, (2)USGS National Earthquake Information Center Golden, Golden, CO, United States
The San Cristobal Trough, which occupies the southern segment of the South Solomon Trench, hosts a dominantly left-lateral transform plate boundary (SCTF) linking the southern end of the Solomon Islands subduction zone (SISZ) to the northern end of the New Hebrides (Vanuatu) subduction zone (NHSZ). At its western end (SISZ), the Australia plate is torn as a result of the transition from subduction to transform motion. The southern side of the tear translates approximately 375 km along the SCTF before subducting beneath the Santa Cruz Islands at the NHSZ. Earthquakes occurring along this transform reflect the processes of plate tearing, fault zone evolution, and subsequent underthrusting and subduction of the Australia-plate-side of the transform. A knot of earthquake activity at the western end of the SCTF juxtaposes high-angle thrust faulting events with left-lateral strike slip events. These record the tearing of Australian lithosphere, as shown by a recent pair of large earthquakes in that region - a Mw 7.6 strike-slip event (12 April 2014) followed 22 hours later by a Mw 7.4 high-angle reverse faulting event (13 April 2014). Associated displacements reflect oblique tearing (northern-side down and west), allowing the Australia Plate to follow two disparate paths - subduction at the SISZ to the north and translation along the SCTF to the south. Moving eastward along the transform, the plate boundary shows three styles of earthquake activity. The main transform is dominated by shallow, E-W striking, left-lateral faulting and E-W striking thrust faults (with a north-dipping shallow fault plane) - these reflect partitioning of oblique motion along the transform between the Australia and Pacific plates. Outboard (+/- 100 km) of the plate boundary, a group of E-W striking shallow normal faulting events reflect upward bending driven by the convergent component of plate motions. Approaching the NHSZ, normal faulting earthquakes in the Australia Plate rotate clockwise, consistent with outer-rise normal faulting of the NHSZ.