Journal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth

Frictional-viscous flow of phyllosilicate-bearing fault rock: Microphysical model and implications for crustal strength profiles

Authors

  • Bart Bos,

    1. High Pressure and Temperature Laboratory, Faculty of Earth Sciences, Utrecht University, Utrecht, Netherlands
    2. Now at TNO TPD Materials Technology, Eindhoven, Netherlands.
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  • Christopher J. Spiers

    1. High Pressure and Temperature Laboratory, Faculty of Earth Sciences, Utrecht University, Utrecht, Netherlands
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Abstract

[1] It is widely believed that around the brittle-ductile transition, crustal faults can be significantly weaker than predicted by conventional two-mechanism brittle-ductile strength envelopes. Factors contributing to this weakness include the polyphase nature of natural rocks, foliation development, and the action of fluid-assisted processes such as pressure solution. Recently, ring shear experiments using halite/kaolinite mixtures as an analogue for phyllosilicate-rich rocks for the first time showed frictional-viscous behavior (i.e., both normal stress and strain rate sensitive behavior) involving the combined effects of pressure solution and phyllosilicates. This behavior was accompanied by the development of a mylonitic microstructure. A quantitative assessment of the implications of this for the strength of natural faults has hitherto been hampered by the absence of a microphysical model. In this paper, a microphysical model for shear deformation of foliated, phyllosilicate-bearing fault rock by pressure solution-accommodated sliding along phyllosilicate foliae is developed. The model predicts purely frictional behavior at low and high shear strain rates and frictional-viscous behavior at intermediate shear strain rates. The mechanical data on wet halite + kaolinite gouge compare favorably with the model. When applied to crustal materials, the model predicts major weakening with respect to conventional brittle-ductile strength envelopes, in particular, around the brittle-ductile transition. The predicted strength profiles suggest that in numerical models of crustal deformation the strength of high-strain regions could be approximated by an apparent friction coefficient of 0.25–0.35 down to depths of 15–20 km.

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