Shock Waves Trigger Fault Weakening in Calcite-bearing Rocks During Earthquakes

Monday, 15 December 2014
Elena Spagnuolo1, Oliver Plumper2, Marie Violay3, Andrea Cavallo1 and Giulio Di Toro4, (1)National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology, Roma 1, Rome, Italy, (2)Utrecht University, Department of Earth Sciences, Utrecht, Netherlands, (3)ETH Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland, (4)University of Padua, Padua, Italy
The weakening mechanism of calcite-bearing rocks is still poorly understood though many major earthquakes stroke within carbonate sequences. Insights derive from the laboratory: in experiments performed on calcite-bearing gouges, up to 90% drop in friction is associated to grain size reduction to the nanoscale and the formation of crystal-plastic microstructures suggesting the activation of debated weakening mechanisms (e.g., grain boundary sliding and diffusion creep; nanopowder lubrication). Whatever the case, it is unclear how nanoparticles form and what their role is at the initiation of sliding.

To investigate initial fault instability we sheared with a rotary shear apparatus SHIVA pre-cut ring-shaped solid cylinders (50/30 mm ext/int diameter) of Carrara marble (99.9% CaCO3). Rock cylinders were slid for few millimetres(0, 1.5 mm and 5mm) at accelerations (6.5 ms-2) and normal stresses (10 MPa) approaching seismic deformation conditions. Initial slip (<2 mm) was concomitant with large frictional weakening (up to 30% of static friction) and CO2emission.

Microanalytical observations (FE-SEM, FIB-SEM and TEM) showed that the experimental slipping zones consisted of (1) defects structures, including dislocations, cleavage surfaces and deformation features such as mechanical twins, partially burden beneath (2) a 2-10 micrometer thick layer of nanograins where pervasive nano-fracturing have occurred preserving the grain shape (pulverization) and (3) reaction products attributable to high pressure and high temperature conditions (i.e. calcite decomposition into amorphous carbon rimming the nanograins). All the above features are typical of shock-induced changes in minerals.

We interpret the above observations as follows: pre-existing grain boundaries or newly formed defects are the nuclei for the generation of dislocations and for their pile-up; the fast release of those piles-up in avalanches under rapid stress loading (fast moving dislocations) may explain the origin of such a shock-like behaviour responsible for large initial frictional weakening. The passage of the shock wave induces pervasive nanofracturing with grain size reduction to the nano-scale and an abrupt temperature rise responsible for calcite decarbonation and formation of carbon amorphous material.