Shear zone liquefaction in mass transport deposit emplacement: A multi-scale integration of seismic reflection and outcrop data

K. Ogata, J. J. Mountjoy, Gian Andrea Pini, A. Festa, R. Tinterri

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


We present the integrated outcrop-geophysical study of two mass transport complexes, the exhumed Specchio unit in the Northern Apennines of Italy and the Holocene Poverty unit in the Hikurangi margin of New Zealand. The combination of micro- to meso-scale structural, stratigraphic and sedimentologic analyses carried on continuous three-dimensional outcrops, with large-scale structural and morphologic data deriving from seismic/acoustic imaging of the present-day continental margins, allow important considerations on submarine landslide processes and mechanisms through the broader (up-scaled and down-scaled) understanding of the mass transport-related structural associations. We compare the discontinuous high-amplitude, reverse-polarity reflectors observed within the Poverty with the syn-sedimentary, ductile shear zones found within the Specchio mass transport complex. The seismic signature of such structures suggests localized fluid overpressure along detachment/thrust zones due to shearing and loading of undrained, water-saturated, fine-grained material, developed along with the slide mass movement. The outcrop expression of these structures is tentatively attributed to m- to tens of m-thick shear zones comprising large amounts of sedimentary matrix which separate and accommodate the differential movements of the internal slide components (e.g. slide blocks, olistoliths). The sedimentary matrix is an unsorted, lithologically mixed medium characterized by a scale-invariant "block-in-matrix" fabric (i.e. brecciated, mud-supported), that injects, sustain and surrounds discrete slide elements (from particles to blocks) and interpreted as a hyper-concentrated (liquefied/fluidized) suspension of water and scattered sediments developed in fluid overpressure conditions. We highlight the fundamental role of shearing-related liquefaction as one of the main factors controlling slide mobility through the "lubrication" of the internal and basal friction forces. The analysis of such features can therefore provide important information for the characterization of mass transport deposits developed from potentially catastrophic, long run-out mass transport events, and consequently, to better understand their possible socio-economic impact in terms of tsunamigenic potential.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)50-64
Number of pages15
JournalMarine Geology
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2014


  • Ductile shear zones
  • Exhumed mass transport complexes
  • Fluid overpressure
  • Liquefaction
  • Sedimentary matrix


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