Static versus dynamic fracturing in shallow carbonate fault zones
Abstract:Moderate to large earthquakes often nucleate within and propagate through carbonates in the shallow crust, therefore several field and experimental studies were recently aimed to constrain earthquake-related deformation processes within carbonate fault rocks.
In particular, the occurrence of thick belts (10-100s m) of low-strain fault-related breccias (average size of rock fragments >1 cm), which is relatively common within carbonate damage zones, was generally interpreted as resulting from the quasi-static growth of fault zones rather than from the cumulative effect of multiple earthquake ruptures.
Here we report the occurrence of up to hundreds of meters thick belts of intensely fragmented dolostones along the major transpressive Foiana Fault Zone (Italian Southern Alps) which was exhumed from < 2 km depth. Such dolostones are reduced into fragments ranging from few centimeters down to few millimeters in size with ultrafine-grained layers in proximity to the principal slip zones. Preservation of the original bedding indicates a lack of significant shear strain in the fragmented dolostones which seem to have been shattered in situ.
To investigate the origin of the in-situ shattered rocks, the host dolostones were deformed in uniaxial compression both under quasi-static loading (strain rate ~10-3 s-1) and dynamic loading (strain rate >50 s-1). Dolostones deformed up to failure under low-strain rate were affected by single to multiple discrete (i.e. not interconnected) extensional fractures sub-parallel to the loading direction. Dolostones deformed under high-strain rate were shattered above a strain rate threshold of ~200 s-1(strain >1.2%) while they were split in few fragments or were macroscopically intact for lower strain rates. Experimentally shattered dolostones were reduced into a non-cohesive material with most rock fragments a few millimeters in size and elongated parallel to the loading direction.
Fracture networks were investigated by X-ray microtomography showing that low- and high-strain rate damage patterns are different with the latter being similar to that of natural in-situ shattered dolostones. In-situ shattered dolostones are thus interpreted as the product of off-fault dynamic stress wave loading and can potentially be used to constrain coseismic energy release in fault zones.