In contrast to the normal 'Wilson cycle' sequence of subduction leading to continental collision and associated mountain building, the evolution of the New Zealand plate boundary in the Neogene reflects the converse-initially a period of continental convergence that is followed by the emplacement of subduction. Plate reconstructions allow us to place limits on the location and timing of the continental convergence and subduction zones and the migration of the transition between the two plate boundary regimes. Relative plate motions and reconstructions since the Early to Mid-Miocene require significant continental convergence in advance of the emplacement of the southward migrating Hikurangi subduction-a sequence of tectonism seen in the present plate boundary geography of Hikurangi subduction beneath North Island and convergence in the Southern Alps along the Alpine Fault. In contrast to a transition from subduction to continental convergence where the leading edge of the upper plate is relatively thin and deformable, the transition from a continental convergent regime, with its associated crustal and lithospheric thickening, to subduction of oceanic lithosphere requires substantial thinning (removal) of upper plate continental lithosphere to make room for the slab. The simple structure of the Wadati-Benioff zone seen in the present-day geometry of the subducting Pacific plate beneath North Island indicates that this lithospheric adjustment occurs quickly. Associated with this rapid lithospheric thinning is the development of a series of ephemeral basins, younging to the south, that straddle the migrating slab edge. Based on this association between localized vertical tectonics and slab emplacement, the tectonic history of these basins records the effects of lithospheric delamination driven by the southward migrating leading edge of the subducting Pacific slab. Although the New Zealand plate boundary is often described as simply two subduction zones linked by the transpressive Alpine Fault, in actuality the present is merely a snapshot view of an ongoing and complex evolution from convergence to subduction.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Earth-Surface Processes