Mechanical Evolution and Dynamics of Decollement Slip in Contractional Systems: Correlating Macro- and Micro-Scale Processes in Particle Dynamics Simulation

Tuesday, 16 December 2014: 2:10 PM
Julia K Morgan, Rice University, Houston, TX, United States
Particle-based numerical simulations allow detailed investigations of small-scale processes and mechanisms associated with fault initiation and slip, which emerge naturally in such models. This study investigates the evolving mechanical conditions and associated micro-mechanisms during transient slip on a weak decollement propagating beneath a growing contractional wedge (e.g., accretionary prism, fold and thrust belt). The models serve as analogs of the seismic cycle, although lacking full earthquake dynamics. Nonetheless, the mechanical evolution of both decollement and upper plate can be monitored, and correlated with the particle-scale physical and contact properties, providing insights into changes that accompany such stick-slip behavior. In this study, particle assemblages consolidated under gravity and bonded to impart cohesion, are pushed at a constant velocity above a weak, unbonded decollement surface. Forward propagation of decollement slip occurs in discrete pulses, modulated by heterogeneous stress conditions (e.g., roughness, contact bridging) along the fault. Passage of decollement slip resets the stress along this horizon, producing distinct patterns: shear stress is enhanced in front of the slipped decollement due to local contact bridging and fault locking; shear stress minima occur immediately above the tip, denoting local stress release and contact reorganization following slip; more mature portions of the fault exhibit intermediate shear stress, reflecting more stable contact force distributions and magnitudes. This pattern of shear stress pre-conditions the decollement for future slip events, which must overcome the high stresses at the fault tip. Long-term slip along the basal decollement induces upper plate contraction. When upper plate stresses reach critical strength conditions, new thrust faults break through the upper plate, relieving stresses and accommodating horizontal shortening. Decollement activity retreats back to the newly formed thrust fault. The cessation of upper plate fault slip causes gradual increases in upper plate stresses, rebuilding shear stresses along the decollement and enabling renewed pulses of decollement slip. Thus, upper plate deformation occurs out of phase with decollement propagation.