Abstract

Exhumed strike-slip faults exposed in the Neves area of the Tauern Window (eastern Alps, Italy) formed in the lower brittle crust under hydrous conditions within intact metagranitoids, where any precursor fractures were already healed due to earlier amphibolite-facies metamorphism. Faults initiated as newly formed en-echelon fractures delineating shear bands, with segmentation occurring over scales of 10–3 to 102 m. Due to the initial en-echelon pattern, stepovers between fault segments were almost invariably contractional during subsequent slip accumulation. In initial low-slip (centimeter to decimeter) stages, synthetic slip on the segments was associated with the development of a set of antithetic faults in the contractional stepovers, oriented at an angle of 30°–45° to the bounding faults. Slip on this antithetic set did not fully compensate for the decrease in slip on the main faults, implying an additional deformation mechanism within the stepovers (e.g., block rotation and/or out-of-plane movement). In larger faults with slip on the order of a few meters, the antithetic faults within the stepover were crosscut by synthetic sigmoidal faults that connected the overstepped fault segments and accommodated most of the subsequent displacement transfer. This second stage of evolution involving fault linkage is well documented in the Mesule fault, which has a current maximum offset of ∼10 m. In the Mesule fault, the total horizontal slip summed along all secondary faults within the stepover accounts almost entirely for the net slip decrease toward the tips of the overstepping faults. However, the boundary faults remain nearly straight in spite of the sigmoidal ramp-like geometry of the connecting faults. Since the adjacent blocks are little deformed and there is no evidence for appreciable volume loss or block rotation in the stepover, significant out-of-plane movement is implied, although it is difficult to quantify. The Neves area provides unusually detailed field constraints on fault initiation, linkage, and displacement accumulation within nonbedded and relatively isotropic granitoid rocks at the base of the brittle crust, where neither a free upper surface nor substantial volume change (e.g., by veining and pressure solution) was a controlling factor in accommodating fault linkage and displacement transfer.

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