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Geometry and structure of the Vitiaz Trench Lineament (SW Pacific)

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Abstract

Swath bathymetric, sonar imagery and seismic reflection data collected during the SOPACMAPS cruise Leg 3 over segments of the Vitiaz Trench Lineament and adjacent areas provide new insights on the geometry and the stuctural evolution of this seismically inactive lineament. The Vitiaz Trench Lineament, although largely unknown, is one of the most important tectonic feature in the SW Pacific because it separates the Cretaceous crust of the Pacific Plate to the north from the Cenozoic lithosphere of the North Fiji and Lau Basins to the south. The lineament is considered to be the convergent plate boundary between the Pacific and Australian Plates during midde to late Tertiary time when the Vitiaz Arc was a continuous east-facing are from the Tonga to the Solomon Islands before the development of the North Fiji and Lau Basins. Progressive reversal and cessation of subduction from west to east in the Late Miocene-Lower Plioene have been also proposed. However, precise structures and age of initiation and cessation of deformation along the Vitiaz Trench Lineament are unknown.

The lineament consists of the Vitiaz Trench and three discontinuous and elongated troughs (Alexa, Rotuma and Horne Troughs) which connect the Vitiaz Trench to the northern end of the Tonga Trench. Our survey of the Alexa and Rotuma Troughs reveals that the lineament is composed of a series of WNW-ESE and ENE-WSW trending segments in front of large volcanic massifs belonging to the Melanesian Border Plateau, a WNW trending volcanic belt of seamounts and ridges on Pacific crust. The Plateau and Pacific plate lying immediately north of the lineament have been affected by intense normal faulting, collapse, and volcanism as evidenced by a series of tilted blocks, grabens, horsts and ridges trending N 120° to N100° and N60°–70°. This tectonism includes several normal faulting episodes, the latest being very recent and possibly still active. The trend of the fault scarps and volcanic ridges parallels the different segments of the Vitiaz Trench Lineament, suggesting that tectonics and volcanism are related to crustal motion along the lineament.

Although the superficial observed features are mainly extensional, they are interpreted as the result of shortening along the Vitiaz Trench Lineament. The fabric north of the lineament would result from subduction-induced normal faulting on the outer wall of the trench and the zig-zag geometry of the Vitiaz Trench Lineament might be due to collision of large volcanic edifices of the Melanesian Border Plateau with the trench, provoking trench segmentation along left-lateral ENE-WSW trending transform zones. The newly acquired bathymetric and seismic data suggest that crustal motion (tectonism associated with volcanism) continued up to recent times along the Vitiaz Trench Lineament and was active during the development of the North Fiji Basin.

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Pelletier, B., Auzende, J. Geometry and structure of the Vitiaz Trench Lineament (SW Pacific). Marine Geophysical Researches 18, 305–335 (1996). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00286083

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Key words

  • Subduction zone
  • oceanic crust
  • volcanism
  • SW Pacific
  • Vitiaz Trench Lineament
  • swath bathymetry