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In the western Woodlark Basin, off Papua New Guinea, the variation from continental rifting to sea-floor spreading has profound effects on the mechanical response of the lithosphere. The extension is well expressed in a seismically active, shallow-dipping detachment fault. Recent Ocean Drilling Program drilling (ODP Leg 180) in the area obtained cores from the hanging wall, detachment fault gouge, and footwall, of which samples underwent permeability testing in the laboratory. Permeability variation was found to be critically dependent on (1) flow direction, i.e. fabric anisotropy of the rocks, and (2) deformational structures in the hanging wall to the fault. Regarding the first, a slight but distinct increase in permeability has been recorded parallel to the fabric (compared with flow normal to this, as indicated by anisotropy indices of Khorizontal/Kvertical of >1.7). This phenomenon appears most profound directly above fault zones in the hanging-wall block, which are interpreted to represent splays to the main detachment fault plane at depth. Here, shear-enhanced compaction seals fluid flow to the sea floor, so that conductive flow parallel to the fault plane is favoured (in general one order of magnitude higher). The fault gouge, mainly consisting of highly serpentinized basalt and chlorite, exhibits an increase in permeability relative to the clay- and siltstones of the hangingwall block. In the metamorphic basalt from the tectonic footwall, permeability decreases again by three orders of magnitude (k is c. 6e–17 to 5e–18m2). Consequently, the detachment and synthetic splays related to it are zones of enhanced fluid migration in the fault plane direction. Fluid overpressure, and hence fault activity, is suggested to be triggered by seal of the top of the fault zone, owing to both shear fabrics and cementation processes.

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