The Kidnappers Slide, on the upper continental slope of the convergent margin off eastern North Island, New Zealand, has been re-examined using a grid of high-resolution seismic reflection profiles. The slide is not a single feature but a complex of sheet slides and rotational failures ranging from 20 to 140 m thick, and covering a total area of 720 km2. Failures occurred in several phases, on slopes of 1–5°, in late Quaternary, muddy, shelf-edge clinoforms that have prograded into an accretionary, trench-slope basin. Piston cores and seismic stratigraphy show that the main failure probably occurred in early Holocene times but that movements ranged from mid last glacial to late Holocene times.
The sheet slides exhibit tensional collapse via numerous listric normal faults that sole out on glide planes; there is no clear evidence of compressional structures anywhere within the complex. The glide planes occur at progressively deeper stratigraphic levels towards the northeastern end of the complex, and near the steep slope that defines the seaward edge of the trench-slope basin. There is retrogressive failure at the top of the slope. The surficial slides are being deformed by growth of active tectonic faults and folds associated with the convergent plate margin.
This type of slope failure may be partially related to metastable sandy layers within the last glacial age progradational sequence, and possibly to formation of bubble phase gas at shallow depths. Failure was probably triggered by earthquake loading of sediments in this highly seismic region.