Development of sediment drifts approaching an active plate margin under the SW Pacific Deep Western Boundary Current


  • L. Carter,

  • I. N. McCave


The abyssal Pacific Ocean is fed by a 1000 km wide, deep western boundary current (DWBC) that flows northward along the continental margin, east of New Zealand. Between the passive margin of Chatham Rise and the subduction zone of Kermadec Trench, a distance of 1200 km, the DWBC has formed a suite of sediment drifts over a depth range of 2200–5700 m. Airgun and 3.5-kHz profiles record a variety of drift types that reflect regional variations in bathymetry, sediment supply, and the tectonic/volcanic framework. On Chatham Rise the DWBC has deposited a sinuous, linear body along the south flank (3000 m), an extensive apronlike drift on the north flank (2200–4500 m), and a ridgelike drift about the rise base (4500–5200 m). The flow has also deposited a body of sediment over 400 km long within a moat at the base of the nearby Louisville Seamount Chain. Further downcurrent, the 250 km long Rekohu Drift (3600–4190 m) has developed northward to 39°S. South of this latitude, drifts comprise mainly reworked pelagic/hemipelagic material and sediment transported from distant southerly sources. In contrast, drifts north of 39°S have received a major injection of terrigenous sediment from Hikurangi Channel which runs 1400 km from New Zealand, eastward across the Hikurangi Plateau to disgorge on to the abyssal floor at the plateau edge. En route, turbidity current overspill from the channel has moved north under the influence of the shallow DWBC to contribute to a series of small ridge and patch drifts among the numerous seamounts on the plateau at 3500–4200 m. Off Hikurangi Channel mouth, a large fan has accumulated. The DWBC has extended the fan into a drift running over 250 km along the base of Hikurangi Plateau (5150–5770 m) toward Kermadec Trench. Here drift sediment becomes increasingly disrupted by mass wasting associated with the active subduction in this area. The seismic stratigraphy reveals the drifts to rest mainly on a widespread erosional surface that is interpreted to mark the inception of the DWBC in the region with the late Oligocene opening of the Australian-Antarctic seaway. Drift construction commenced during the Miocene but was punctuated in the late Miocene by another period of erosion that coincided with increased bottom water production in Antarctica. Deposition resumed in Plio-Pleistocene times when large quantities of sediment from the rapidly rising landmass of New Zealand were injected into the boundary current. The modern flow continues to affect drift deposition as manifest by an active boundary channel along the foot of Hikurangi Plateau and widespread scour zones and sediment wave fields.