The Development of Fault Networks at the Termination of Continental Transform Faults When Their Connecting Plate Boundary Is “Misaligned”

M. Withers, A. R. Cruden, M. C. Quigley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review


We report the results of a series of scaled laboratory experiments that investigate the development of fault systems in plate boundary transition zones, where deformation is distributed between a continental transform fault (e.g., Alpine Fault, New Zealand; North Anatolian Fault (NAF), Turkey; San Andreas Fault (SAF), USA) and its connecting plate boundary. In these transition zones, continental transform faults are observed to branch into multiple subsidiary faults. Here we show that large-scale transition zone fault networks comprise crustal-scale Riedel shears that develop sequentially outwards and away from the parent transform fault. Such fault networks form within brittle upper crust that overlies a ductile lower crust that deforms by large-scale distributed simple shear. We argue that large-scale distributed deformation of the lower crust occurs when continental transform faults are “misaligned” relative to their connecting plate boundaries. This misalignment may occur: (a) where a transform fault does not directly connect with a convergent or divergent plate boundary, as in the northern termination of the Alpine Fault and the western termination of the NAF; and (b) where a significant bend in the transform fault occurs in the plate boundary transition zone, as in the southern termination of the SAF. The development of such plate boundary misalignments appears to occur when a plate boundary transition zone develops as a continental transform fault propagates toward a different type of “connecting” plate boundary.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere2023TC007823
Number of pages19
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2023


  • analog modeling
  • continental transform fault
  • Marlborough Fault System
  • North Anatolian Fault
  • San Andreas Fault
  • simple shear
  • strike-slip

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