Thermal-mechanical behavior of oceanic transform faults: Implications for the spatial distribution of seismicity
Article first published online: 1 JUL 2010
Copyright 2010 by the American Geophysical Union.
Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems
Volume 11, Issue 7, July 2010
How to Cite
2010), Thermal-mechanical behavior of oceanic transform faults: Implications for the spatial distribution of seismicity, Geochem. Geophys. Geosyst., 11, Q07001, doi:10.1029/2010GC003034., , and (
- Issue published online: 1 JUL 2010
- Article first published online: 1 JUL 2010
- Manuscript Accepted: 1 APR 2010
- Manuscript Revised: 30 MAR 2010
- Manuscript Received: 7 JAN 2010
- oceanic transform faults;
- fault rheology;
- fault mechanics
 To investigate the spatial distribution of earthquakes along oceanic transform faults, we utilize a 3-D finite element model to calculate the mantle flow field and temperature structure associated with a ridge-transform-ridge system. The model incorporates a viscoplastic rheology to simulate brittle failure in the lithosphere and a non-Newtonian temperature-dependent viscous flow law in the underlying mantle. We consider the effects of three key thermal and rheological feedbacks: (1) frictional weakening due to mantle alteration, (2) shear heating, and (3) hydrothermal circulation in the shallow lithosphere. Of these effects, the thermal structure is most strongly influenced by hydrothermal cooling. We quantify the thermally controlled seismogenic area for a range of fault parameters, including slip rate and fault length, and find that the area between the 350°C and 600°C isotherms (analogous to the zone of seismic slip) is nearly identical to that predicted from a half-space cooling model. However, in contrast to the half-space cooling model, we find that the depth to the 600°C isotherm and the width of the seismogenic zone are nearly constant along the fault, consistent with seismic observations. The calculated temperature structure and zone of permeable fluid flow are also used to approximate the stability field of hydrous phases in the upper mantle. We find that for slow slipping faults, the potential zone of hydrous alteration extends greater than 10 km in depth, suggesting that transform faults serve as a significant pathway for water to enter the oceanic upper mantle.