We deformed cores of peridotite with ∼10%–15% lizardite and chrysotile serpentine to determine the influence of serpentine content on the strength and the style of deformation. The strength, the pressure dependence of strength, and the nominally nondilatant mode of brittle deformation of slightly serpentinized peridotites are comparable to those of pure serpentinites. These results indicate that deformation is accommodated primarily by serpentine, while olivine, despite being the more abundant component, remains nominally undeformed. On the basis of these data and previous work, we determine that the transition from a “strong,” dilatant dunite rheology to a “weak,” nondilatant serpentinite rheology is not a linear function of the degree of serpentinization. Instead, an abrupt transition in strength is observed at low degrees of serpentinization. The pressure of the transition from localized to distributed deformation also decreases abruptly, from >1000 MPa to 150–350 MPa. The change in rheological behavior occurs at a serpentine content of 10%–15% or less, which corresponds to published compressional seismic velocity of >7.8–7.5 km/s at a pressure of 200 MPa. The seismic velocity of the oceanic lithosphere, particularly of that formed at slow spreading ridges, can thus provide constraints on its mechanical properties at depth. Because slightly serpentinized peridotites have a rheology similar to that of pure serpentinite, significant lithospheric weakening may occur after the onset of alteration near or at the ridge axis.

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