Experimental layering development by indenter technique and application to fault rheology differentiation
Abstract:Natural deformation of rocks is often associated with differentiation processes leading to irreversible transformations of their microstructural thus leading in turn to modifications of their rheological properties. The mechanisms of development of such processes at work during diagenesis, metamorphism or fault differentiation are poorly known as they are not easy to reproduce in the laboratory due to the long duration required for most of chemically controlled differentiation processes.
Here we show that experimental compaction with layering development, similar to what happens in natural deformation, can be obtained in the laboratory by indenter techniques. Samples of plaster mixed with clay and samples of diatomite loosely interbedded with clays were loaded during several months at 40°C (plaster) and 150°C (diatomite) in presence of their saturated solutions. High-resolution X-ray tomography and SEM studies show that the layering development is a self-organized process. Stress driven dissolution of the soluble minerals (gypsum in plaster, silica in diatomite) is initiated in the zones initially richer in clays because the kinetics of diffusive mass transfer along the clay/soluble mineral interfaces is much faster than along the healed boundaries of the soluble minerals. The passive concentration of the clay minerals amplifies the localization of the dissolution along some layers oriented perpendicular to the maximum compressive stress component. Conversely, in the areas with initial low content in clay and clustered soluble minerals, dissolution is more difficult as the grain boundaries of the soluble species are healed together. These areas are less deformed and they act as rigid objects that concentrate the dissolution near their boundaries thus amplifying the differentiation.
Applications to fault processes are discussed: i) localized pressure solution and sealing processes may lead to fault rheology differentiation with a partition between two end-member behaviors: seismic (in sealed zones) and aseismic (in dissolved zones); ii) tectonic layering may lead to highly anisotropic structures with a drastic decrease of the rock strength parallel to the layering.