We combine recently acquired airborne light detection and ranging (LiDAR) data along a portion of the Alpine fault with previous work to define the ways in which the plate-boundary structures partition at three different scales from <106 to 100 m. At the first order (<106–104 m), the Alpine fault is a remarkably straight and unpartitioned structure controlled by inherited and active weakening processes at depth. At the second order (104–103 m), motion is serially partitioned in the upper ∼1–2 km onto oblique-thrust and strike-slip fault segments that arise at the scale of major river valleys due to stress perturbations from hanging-wall topographic variations and river incision destabilization of the hanging-wall critical wedge, concepts proposed by previous workers. The resolution of the LiDAR data refines second-order mapping and reveals for the first time that at a third order (103–100 m), the fault is parallel-partitioned into asymmetric positive flower structures, or fault wedges, in the hanging wall. These fault wedges are bounded by dextral-normal and dextral-thrust faults rooted at shallow depths (<600 m) on a planar, moderately southeast-dipping, dextral-reverse fault plane. The fault wedges have widths of ∼300 m and are bounded by and contain kinematically stable fault traces that define a surface-rupture hazard zone. Newly discovered anticlinal ridges between fault traces indicate that a component of shallow shortening within the fault wedge is accommodated through folding. A fault kinematic analysis predicts the fault trace orientations observed and indicates that third-order fault trace locations and kinematics arise independently of topographic controls. We constructed a slip stability analysis that suggests the new strike-slip faults will easily accommodate displacement within the hanging-wall wedge, and that thrust motion is most easily accommodated on faults oblique to the overall strike of the Alpine fault. We suggest that the thickness of footwall sediments and width of the fault damage zone (i.e., presence of weaker, more isotropic materials) are major factors in defining the width, extent, and geometry of third-order near-surface fault wedges.
- Received 13 January 2012.
- Revision received 12 May 2012.
- Accepted 17 May 2012.
- © 2011 Geological Society of America