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Detrital zircon provenance of the Cretaceous-Neogene East Coast Basin reveals changing tectonic conditions and drainage reorganization along the Pacific margin of Zealandia

February 21, 2022

The Upper Cretaceous–Pliocene strata of New Zealand record ~100 m.y. of Zealandia’s evolution, including development of the Hikurangi convergent margin and Alpine transform plate boundary. A comprehensive, new detrital zircon U-Pb data set (8315 analyses from 61 samples) was generated along a ~700 km transect of the East Coast Basin of New Zealand. Age distributions were analyzed and interpreted in terms of published data available for Cambrian–Cretaceous igneous and metasedimentary source terranes using a Monte Carlo mixture modeling approach. Results indicate a widespread Early Cretaceous transition in sediment source from the Gondwana interior to the Median Batholith magmatic arc prior to Late Cretaceous rifting from Antarctica. Submergence of Zealandia during a Late Cretaceous–Paleogene drift phase led to major drainage reorganization and the influx of Eastern Province sediment to the East Coast Basin. A long-lived sediment conduit that transported extraregional Western Province detritus to the south-central East Coast Basin may have developed along a structural precursor to the Alpine Fault. Marked Neogene increase of Upper Jurassic–Lower Cretaceous Torlesse Composite Terrane sediment to the central East Coast Basin resulted from exhumation of the Axial Ranges, convergence along the Hikurangi subduction margin, and concurrent development of the Alpine Fault. Concurrent influx of contemporaneous Neogene zircon in the northern East Coast Basin indicated the onset of subduction-related volcanism of the Northland–Coromandel Volcanic Arc. Middle Miocene–Pliocene exhumation and dextral translation of the Nelson region along the Alpine Fault resulted in the eastward routing of Western Province sediment to the central East Coast Basin. Finally, topography developed across the plate boundary and ultimately partitioned continental drainage of Zealandia, such that sediment from the Murihiku, Caples, and Rakaia Terranes in the Otago region was routed to the southern extent of the East Coast Basin. These results illuminate the evolution of the Zealandia continental drainage divide in response to the initiation of the Pacific-Australian plate boundary and demonstrate the power of mixture modeling and large data sets for deciphering sediment routing in dynamic tectonic environments.