Frictional slip of granite at hydrothermal conditions


  • Michael L. Blanpied,

  • David A. Lockner,

  • James D. Byerlee


Sliding on faults in much of the continental crust likely occurs at hydrothermal conditions, i.e., at elevated temperature and elevated pressure of aqueous pore fluids, yet there have been few relevant laboratory studies. To measure the strength, sliding behavior, and friction constitutive properties of faults at hydrothermal conditions, we slid laboratory granite faults containing a layer of granite powder (simulated gouge). Velocity stepping experiments were performed at temperatures of 23° to 600°C, pore fluid pressures PH2O of 0 (“dry”) and 100 MPa (“wet”), effective normal stress of 400 MPa, and sliding velocities V of 0.01 to 1 μm/s (0.32 to 32 m/yr). Conditions were similar to those in earlier tests on dry granite to 845°C by Lockner et al. (1986). The mechanical results define two regimes. The first regime includes dry granite up to at least 845° and wet granite below 250°C. In this regime the coefficient of friction is high (μ = 0.7 to 0.8) and depends only modestly on temperature, slip rate, and PH2O. The second regime includes wet granite above ∼350°C. In this regime friction decreases considerably with increasing temperature (temperature weakening) and with decreasing slip rate (velocity strengthening). These regimes correspond well to those identified in sliding tests on ultrafine quartz. We infer that one or more fluid-assisted deformation mechanisms are activated in the second, hydrothermal, regime and operate concurrently with cataclastic flow. Slip in the first (cool and/or dry) regime is characterized by pervasive shearing and particle size reduction. Slip in the second (hot and wet) regime is localized primarily onto narrow shear bands adjacent to the gouge-rock interfaces. Weakness of these boundary shears may result either from an abundance of phyllosilicates preferentially aligned for easy dislocation glide, or from a dependence of strength on gouge particle size. Major features of the granite data set can be fit reasonably well by a rate- and temperature-dependent, three-regime friction constitutive model (Chester, this issue). We extrapolate the experimental data and model fit in order to estimate steady state shear strength versus depth along natural, slipping faults for sliding rates as low as 31 mm/yr. We do this for two end-member cases. In the first case, pore pressure is assumed hydrostatic at all depths. Shallow crustal strength in this case is similar to that calculated in previous work from room temperature friction data, while at depths below about 9–13 km (depending on slip rate), strength becomes less sensitive to depth but sensitive to slip rate. In the second case, pore pressure is assumed to be near-lithostatic at depths below ∼5 km. Strength is low at all depths in this case (<20 MPa, in agreement with observations of “weak” faults such as the San Andreas). The predicted depth of transition from velocity weakening to velocity strengthening lies at about 13 km depth for a slip rate of 31 mm/yr, in rough agreement with the seismic-aseismic transition depth observed on mature continental faults. These results highlight the importance of fluid-assisted deformation processes active in faults at depth and the need for laboratory studies on the roles of additional factors such as fluid chemistry, large displacements, higher concentrations of phyllosilicates, and time-dependent fault healing.