The Lau Basin and Havre Trough are back-arc basins related to Pacific–Australian plate convergence. Seafloor spreading occurs in the Lau Basin whereas the Havre Trough is in a rifting stage. At present, the spreading propagator's tip lies at the southern end of the Valu Fa Ridge (VFR) at 22°40′S. Studying this propagation process provides an opportunity to characterize the evolution of rifting to the initiation of seafloor spreading which is fundamental to back-arc basin development.
New geophysical data of the southern Lau Basin reveals that as spreading propagates south, it evolves in a discrete style south of 22°40′S. The propagation axis lies along the eastern margin of the basin, where the well defined, linear VFR loses its identifying morphology. Topography in this eastern zone is characterized by grabens separated by short narrow ridges. High backscatter intensity indicates tectonic and magmatic activity in this eastern area. Mantle Bouguer anomalies (MBA) increase southwards from the VFR to form an elevated MBA area extending west from the currently active area. This indicates eastward migration of active rifting, during which the arc crust was extremely thinned. High magnetization is observed in a left-stepping pattern south of the VFR. We interpret this pattern as discrete segments that characterize the initiation of the spreading stage. There is no evidence of a single, continuous spreading axis like that which characterizes the central and northern Lau Basin. The magnetization highs are discrete and are observed in areas where deformation and magmatism are focused. They are offset relative to the VFR, though they generally follow the same north–south trend as the VFR.