Seismogenic Cycles, Quartz Microstructures and Localization at the Frictional to Viscous Transition in an Exhumed, Large-Displacement, Seismogenic Strike-Slip Fault
Abstract:The frictional-to-viscous transition (FVT) in the vicinity of seismogenic faults experiences coseismic fracturing/frictional sliding followed by viscous creep during postseismic relaxation. A more complete understanding of these processes at the FVT is important owing to its control over the mechanical decoupling between crustal levels. However, well-preserved microstructural records from this depth are rarely preserved in exhumed faults because of progressive deformation and metamorphism in exhumation. We investigate quartz deformation microstructures from traverses across the Sandhill Corner shear zone, a strand of the Norumbega fault system (an ancient large-displacement, subvertical strike-slip fault system in the northeastern Appalachians) exhumed from FVT depths in order to characterize in greater detail the previously proposed architecture that divides the shear zone into an outer zone, inner zone and core. Trends in quantitative crystallographic preferred orientation (CPO) and misorientation data from electron backscatter diffraction and 2D grain-size distributions confirm finer grain sizes within the inner zone and core, a weak CPO pattern and randomization in the misorientation of randomly selected grain pairs. Additional analyses with finer sample spacing and using fabric intensity indices (J- & M-Index), we show a progressive weakening of the CPO from the outer edges to the core and a decrease in grain size down to an average of 8 μm at the core, an average finer than previously reported.
Within the inner zone and core (ca. 30m width), the microstructural parameters are unusual: a weak CPO but a pattern clearly indicative of basal <a> slip. New deformation mechanism maps for different parts of the shear zone suggest deformation near the transition to grain size-sensitive creep. Our data confirms and builds new evidence for the model that during the seismic cycle, quartz grains within the core and inner zone experienced cycles of coseismic microfracture-assisted grain-size reduction, followed by postseismic viscous creep dominated by grain size-sensitive processes, and eventually transitioning to basal <a> slip with progressive grain growth. These observations and data suggest that coseismic damage may occur throughout the seismogenic zone adjacent to large-displacement faults.