Abstract

The mechanism that allowed many tens of km of movement of the enormous block slide floored by the rootless Heart Mountain detachment fault in NW Wyoming has long been a puzzle. Carbonat-rich microbreccia that is widespread along the fault and in dikes in the upper plate contains accreted grains indistinguishable from those observed as fallout from volcanic eruption clouds (accretionary lapilli) and impact ejecta clouds and in intrusive diatremes. In these settings and also in industrial processing, accreted grains form when particles in a turbulent gaseous suspension containing limited water adhere to a nucleating grain or to each other. Elongate grains in thick microbreccia have strong but diverse shap-preferred orientations unlike those reported from other fault rocks but instead suggestive of turbulent flow, and the microbreccia contains layering and other features of sedimentary character that appear to record deposition from suspension rather than frictional processes along a fault. We suggest that frictional heating led to dissociation of carbonate rock along the fault, producing supercritical CO2 as the suspending medium. High CO2 pressure drastically reduced friction along the fault and allowed continuation of catastrophic movement, probably initiated by a volcanic or phreatomagmatic explosion, resulting in very large displacement on a low-dipping surface. Earlier slower sliding may have occurred but final emplacement was rapid (minutes) and spectacular.

You do not currently have access to this article.