The so-called “brittle-ductile transition” is thought to be the strongest part of the lithosphere, and defines the lower limit of the seismogenic zone. It is characterized not only by a transition from localized to distributed (ductile) deformation, but also by a gradual change in microscale deformation mechanism, from microcracking to crystal plasticity. These two transitions can occur separately under different conditions. The threshold conditions bounding the transitions are expected to control how deformation is partitioned between localized fault slip and bulk ductile deformation. Here, we report results from triaxial deformation experiments on pre-faulted cores of Carrara marble over a range of confining pressures, and determine the relative partitioning of the total deformation between bulk strain and on-fault slip. We find that the transition initiates when fault strength (σf) exceeds the yield stress (σy) of the bulk rock, and terminates when it exceeds its ductile flow stress (σflow). In this domain, yield in the bulk rock occurs first, and fault slip is reactivated as a result of bulk strain hardening. The contribution of fault slip to the total deformation is proportional to the ratio (σf − σy)/(σflow − σy). We propose an updated crustal strength profile extending the localized-ductile transition toward shallower regions where the strength of the crust would be limited by fault friction, but significant proportions of tectonic deformation could be accommodated simultaneously by distributed ductile flow.

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