Dynamic uplift in a transpressional regime: Numerical model of the subduction area of Fiordland, New Zealand

Rocco Malservisi, Kevin P. Furlong, Helen Anderson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


Bending of the downgoing plate in subduction zone typically leads to an offshore peripheral bulge. This leads to dynamic uplift generated by the elastic bending of the subducted slab, and is generally enough to support the topography of the bulge in a non-isostatic manner and produce a positive gravity anomaly. The Southwest region of the South Island of New Zealand, Fiordland, is characterized by high elevation and a large positive Bouguer gravity anomaly. This combination of high topography with high Bouguer gravity argues against isostatic equilibrium and suggests an additional support mechanism.Earthquakes as deep as 150 km, a deformed Benioff zone and inferences from plate reconstructions all support a tectonic model where the eastern margin of the Australian plate is subducting beneath Fiordland and is sharply bent. This bending of the Australian plate provides the needed non-isostatic support for Fiordland topography and generates the observed gravity anomaly. Although the peripheral bulge in subduction zones is generally localized offshore, the positive gravity anomaly (Bouguer and free air) in Fiordland is onshore, close to the shoreline, and generally corresponds spatially with high elevations. Here we propose a mechanism that allows the subducted sliver of slab to be decoupled from the main Australian plate and strongly bent beneath Fiordland. We test this scenario with a finite-element model.The model allows us to study the flexural response of a subducting elastic slab bent by lateral compression into a shape similar to the one inferred from seismicity. We test how different plate geometries and plate boundary forces influence the flexural dynamic support of Fiordland topography, providing important constraints on the local plate dynamics. The model results show that for a tectonically reasonable combination of plate geometries and boundary forces, the deformation of the lithosphere produces the observed topography and gravity signature. In particular we find that the bending of the subducted Australian plate can supply the needed uplift and support for the topography of Fiordland. However, a weak area west of but nearby the Fiordland shoreline, perhaps a fault or tear, is needed to decouple the subducted sliver, confine the bulge, and localize the uplift within Fiordland.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)349-364
Number of pages16
JournalEarth and Planetary Science Letters
Issue number3-4
StatePublished - Feb 15 2003

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geophysics
  • Geochemistry and Petrology
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Space and Planetary Science


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