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Research Papers

Issue date: 
Category: 
NZ earthquakes
Paper number: 
45

The 2010-2011 Canterbury earthquake sequence: Environmental effects, seismic triggering thresholds and geologic legacy

Mark C.Quigley, Matthew W.Hughes, Brendon A.Bradley, Sjoerdvan Ballegooy, Catherine Reid, Justin Morgenroth, Travis Horton, Brendan Duffy, Jarg R.Pettinga

Abstract

Seismic shaking and tectonic deformation during strong earthquakes can trigger widespread environmental effects. The severity and extent of a given effect relates to the characteristics of the causative earthquake and the intrinsic properties of the affected media. Documentation of earthquake environmental effects in well-instrumented, historical earthquakes can enable seismologic triggering thresholds to be estimated across a spectrum of geologic, topographic and hydrologic site conditions, and implemented into seismic hazard assessments, geotechnical engineering designs, palaeoseismic interpretations, and forecasts of the impacts of future earthquakes. The 2010–2011 Canterbury Earthquake Sequence (CES), including the moment magnitude (Mw) 7.1 Darfield earthquake and Mw 6.2, 6.0, 5.9, and 5.8 aftershocks, occurred on a suite of previously unidentified, primarily blind, active faults in the eastern South Island of New Zealand. The CES is one of Earth's best recorded historical earthquake sequences. The location of the CES proximal to and beneath a major urban centre enabled rapid and detailed collection of vast amounts of field, geospatial, geotechnical, hydrologic, biologic, and seismologic data, and allowed incremental and cumulative environmental responses to seismic forcing to be documented throughout a protracted earthquake sequence. The CES caused multiple instances of tectonic surface deformation (≥ 3 events), surface manifestations of liquefaction (≥ 11 events), lateral spreading (≥ 6 events), rockfall (≥ 6 events), cliff collapse (≥ 3 events), subsidence (≥ 4 events), and hydrological (10s of events) and biological shifts (≥ 3 events). The terrestrial area affected by strong shaking (e.g. peak ground acceleration (PGA) ≥ 0.1–0.3 g), and the maximum distances between earthquake rupture and environmental response (Rrup), both generally increased with increased earthquake Mw, but were also influenced by earthquake location and source characteristics. However, the severity of a given environmental response at any given site related predominantly to ground shaking characteristics (PGA, peak ground velocities) and site conditions (water table depth, soil type, geomorphic and topographic setting) rather than earthquake Mw. In most cases, the most severe liquefaction, rockfall, cliff collapse, subsidence, flooding, tree damage, and biologic habitat changes were triggered by proximal, moderate magnitude (Mw ≤ 6.2) earthquakes on blind faults. CES environmental effects will be incompletely preserved in the geologic record and variably diagnostic of spatial and temporal earthquake clustering. Liquefaction feeder dikes in areas of severe and recurrent liquefaction will provide the best preserved and potentially most diagnostic CES features. Rockfall talus deposits and boulders will be well preserved and potentially diagnostic of the strong intensity of CES shaking, but challenging to decipher in terms of single versus multiple events. Most other phenomena will be transient (e.g., distal groundwater responses), not uniquely diagnostic of earthquakes (e.g., flooding), or more ambiguous (e.g. biologic changes). Preliminary palaeoseismic investigations in the CES region indicate recurrence of liquefaction in susceptible sediments of ~ 100 to 300 yr, recurrence of severe rockfall event(s) of ca. 6000 to 8000 yr, and recurrence of surface rupturing on the largest CES source fault of ca. 20,000 to 30,000 yr. These data highlight the importance of utilising multiple proxy datasets in palaeoearthquake studies. The severity of environmental effects triggered during the strongest CES earthquakes was as great as or equivalent to any historic or prehistoric effects recorded in the geologic record. We suggest that the shaking caused by rupture of local blind faults in the CES comprised a ‘worst case’ seismic shaking scenario for parts of the Christchurch urban area. Moderate Mw blind fault earthquakes may contribute the highest proportion of seismic hazard, be the most important drivers of landscape evolution, and dominate the palaeoseismic record in some locations on Earth, including locations distal from any identified active faults. A high scientific priority should be placed on improving the spatial extent and quality of ‘off-fault’ shaking records of strong earthquakes, particularly near major urban centres.

 

Reference for full report

Mark C.Quigley., Matthew W.Hughes., Brendon A.Bradley., Sjoerdvan Ballegooy., Catherine Reid., Justin Morgenroth., Travis Horton., Brendan Duffy., Jarg R.Pettinga.(2016) .The 2010–2011 Canterbury Earthquake Sequence: Environmental effects, seismic triggering thresholds and geologic legacy.Tectonophysics,672-673:228-274; http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.tecto.2016.01.044

 

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