Cataclasites are a characteristic rock type found in drill cores from active faults as well as in exposed fossil subduction faults. Here, cataclasites are commonly associated with evidence for pervasive pressure solution and abundant hydro fracturing. They host the principal slip of regular earthquakes and the family of socalled slow earthquakes (episodic slip and tremor, low to very low frequency earthquakes, etc.). Slip velocities associated with the formation of the different types of cataclasites and conditions controlling slip are poorly constrained both from direct observations in nature as well as from experimental research. In this study, we explore exposed sections of subduction faults and their dominant microstructures. We use recently proposed constitutive laws to estimate deformation rates, and we compare predicted rates with instrumental observations from subduction zones. By identifying the maximum strain rates using fault scaling relations to constrain the fault core thickness, we find that the instrumental shear strain rates identified for the family of “slow earthquakes” features range from 10−3s−1 to 10−5s−1. These values agree with estimated rates for stress corrosion creep or brittle creep possibly controlling cataclastic deformation rates near the failure threshold. Typically, porefluid pressures are suggested to be high in subduction zones triggering brittle deformation and fault slip. However, seismic slip events causing local dilatancy may reduce fluid pressures promoting pressuresolution creep (yielding rates of <10−8 to 10−12s−1) during the interseismic period in agreement with dominant fabrics in plate interface zones. Our observations suggest that cataclasis is controlled by stress corrosion creep and driven by fluid pressure fluctuations at nearlithostatic effective pressure and shear stresses close to failure. We posit that cataclastic flow is the dominant physical mechanism governing transient creep episodes such as slow slip events (SSEs), accelerating preparatory slip before seismic events, and early afterslip in the seismogenic zone.
Research Article| November 22, 2021
Slow slip in subduction zones: Reconciling deformation fabrics with instrumental observations and laboratory results
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O. Oncken, S. Angiboust, G. Dresen; Slow slip in subduction zones: Reconciling deformation fabrics with instrumental observations and laboratory results. Geosphere 2021; doi: https://doi.org/10.1130/GES02382.1
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