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Dynamics of giant mass transport in deep submarine environments: the Matakaoa Debris Flow, New Zealand


Correspondence: Wave Imaging Technology Inc. - 11777 Katy Freeway, Houston, TX, 77077, USA. E-mail:


The Matakaoa Debris Flow (MDF) is a 200-km-long mass-transport deposit resulting from the failure of the Matakaoa continental margin, northeast New Zealand, ca. 38–100 ky ago. In this study, high-quality bathymetric and seismic reflection data are used to identify the morpho-structural characters that reflect the kinematics of the MDF, as well as its interactions with basin sediments. We demonstrate how the transport energy, together with the local topography led to the present geometry and complex structure of the MDF deposits. The remarkable transport energy of the MDF is demonstrated by its dynamic impact on adjacent sedimentary series, including erosion of the substratum, shearing and compressional deformation. In the proximal zone of transport, momentous substratum erosion, demonstrated by giant tool marks and truncated sediments at the base of the debrite, triggered the excavation of a large volume (>200 km3) of basin sediments. The size of transported blocks (up to 3-km long) is used to estimate the matrix yield strength in an early stage of transport. In the distal zone of transport, 100 km north of the source, seismic profiles show the propagation of thrust structures from the MDF into adjacent basin sediments. This study highlights that the remarkable volume of 2000 km3 of deposits partly resulted from the propagation of compressive structures within the basin sedimentary series to the front of the debrite.