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Abstract

The rheology of crustal fault zones containing melts is governed primarily by two strain-dependent mechanical discontinuities: (1) a strength minimum parallel to mylonitic foliation just below the active brittle-viscous (b-v) transition; (2) the anatectic front, which marks the upper depth limit of anatectic flow. The mode of syntectonic melt segregation in fault zones is determined by the scale of strain localization and melt-space connectivity, to an extent dependent on strain, strain rate and melt fraction in the rock. Melt drains from the mylonitic wall rock into dilatant shear surfaces, which propagate sporadically as veins. Anatectic flow at natural strain rates therefore involves melt-assisted creep punctuated by melt-induced veining. On the crustal scale, dilatant shear surfaces and vein networks serve as conduits for the rapid, buoyancy-driven ascent of transiently overpressured melt from melt-source rocks at or just below the anatectic front to sinks higher in the crust. Strength estimates for natural rocks that experienced anatectic flow indicate that melts weaken the continental crust, particularly in depth intervals where they spread laterally beneath low-permeability layers or along active shear zones with a pronounced mylonitic foliation. However, acute weakening associated with strength drops of more than an order of magnitude occurs only during short periods (103–105 a) of crustal-scale veining. Cooling and crystallization at the end of these veining episodes is fast and hardens the crust to strengths at least as great as, and in some cases greater than, its pre-melting strength. Repeated melt-induced weakening then hard-ening of fault zones may be linked to other orogenic processes that occur episodically (shifting centres of clastic sedimentation and volcanism) and has implications for stress transmission across orogenic wedges and magmatic arcs.

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