Most exposed middle- and lower-crustal shear zones experienced deformation while cooling. We investigated the effect of the strengthening associated with such cooling on differential stress estimates based on recrystallized grain size. Typical geologic ratios of temperature change per strain unit were applied in Griggs Rig (high pressure-temperature deformation apparatus) general shear experiments on quartzite with cooling rates of 2–10 °C/h from 900 °C to 800 °C, and a shear strain rate of ∼2 × 10−5 s−1. Comparisons between these “cooling-ramp” experiments and control experiments at constant temperatures of 800 °C and 900 °C indicated that recrystallized grain size did not keep pace with evolving stress. Mean recrystallized grain sizes of the cooling-ramp experiments were twice as large as expected from the final stresses of the experiments. The traditional approach to piezometry involves a routine assumption of a steady-state microstructure, and this would underestimate the final stress during the cooling-ramp experiments by ∼40%. Recrystallized grain size in the cooling-ramp experiments is a better indicator of the average stress of the experiments (shear strains ≥3). Due to the temperature sensitivity of recrystallization processes and rock strength, the results may underrepresent the effect of cooling in natural samples. Cooling-ramp experiments produced wider and more skewed grain-size distributions than control experiments, suggesting that analyses of grain-size distributions might be used to quantify the degree to which grain size departs from steady-state values due to cooling, and thereby provide more accurate constraints on final stress.

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