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Keywords:

  • fracture permeability;
  • faults;
  • veins;
  • stress states;
  • fluid pressures

Geofluids (2010) 10, 217–233

Abstract

Permeability enhancement associated with deformation processes in faults and shear zones plays a key role in facilitating fluid redistribution between fluid reservoirs in the crust. Especially in high fluid flux hydrothermal systems, fracture-controlled permeability can be relatively short-lived, unless it is repeatedly regenerated by ongoing deformation. Failure mode diagrams in pore fluid factor and differential stress space, here termed λ–σ failure mode diagrams, provide a powerful tool for analysing how fluid pressure and stress states drive failure, associated permeability enhancement and vein styles during deformation in faults and shear zones. During fault-valve behaviour in the seismogenic regime, relative rates of recovery of pore fluid factor, differential stress and fault cohesive strength between rupture events impact on styles of veining and associated, fracture-controlled permeability enhancement in faults and shear zones. Examples of vein-rich fault zones are used to illustrate how constraints can be placed, not just on fluid pressure and stress states at failure, but also on the fluid pressurization and loading paths associated with failure and transitory permeability enhancement in faults and shear zones. This provides insights about when, during the fault-valve cycle, various types of veins can form. The use of failure mode diagrams also provides insights about the relative roles of optimally oriented faults and misoriented faults as hydraulically conductive structures. The analysis highlights the dynamics of competition between fluid pressures and loading rates in driving failure and repeated permeability regeneration in fracture-controlled, hydrothermal systems.