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The internal structure, mechanics, and fluid flow properties of low-angle normal faults a case study from the island of Elba, Italy

Smith, Steven A. F. (2009) The internal structure, mechanics, and fluid flow properties of low-angle normal faults a case study from the island of Elba, Italy. Doctoral thesis, Durham University.



Low-angle normal faults have been extensively documented in areas of regional extension, in both continental and oceanic lithosphere, but their existence as seismically active structures remains controversial. Low-angle normal faults do not conform to 'traditional’ frictional fault theory, and large earthquakes on low-angle normal faults appear to be rare. Their enigmatic nature suggests that they may hold important clues regarding the rheology of fault zones in general, controls on frictional behaviour, and the deformation histories of the mid- to upper-crust. In this study, I investigate the internal structure, mechanical properties, and fluid flow conditions along a large-displacement low-angle normal fault exposed on the Island of Elba, Italy. Using field relationships, microstructural analysis, stable isotope geochemistry, and rock deformation experiments, I document the most important characteristics of the fault zone, and test hypotheses concerning the mechanical behaviour and evolution of low-angle normal faults. The Zuccale low-angle normal fault crosscuts and displaces a lithologically heterogeneous sequence of wall rocks. Field relationships suggest that it was active in the upper crust during the emplacement of large plutonic complexes. On a regional-scale, the Zuccale fault appears to have a long-wavelength domal morphology, which may have resulted from the intrusion of an upper-crust igneous pluton in to the shallow footwall of the fault. Pluton intrusion strongly influenced the fluid flow regimes and fault rock evolution along the Zuccale fault. Geometric and kinematic relationships between the Zuccale fault and a network of minor footwall faults suggest that the Zuccale fault slipped at a low-angle throughout most of its history. The footwall faults were active broadly contemporaneously with movement along the Zuccale fault, and controlled the distribution and connectivity of different fault rock components. This imparted a distinct mechanical structure to the fault core, potentially influencing fault zone rheology. The central core of the Zuccale fault contains a sequence of fault rocks that deformed by a variety of deformation mechanisms, and formed during progressive exhumation of the fault zone. Triaxial deformation experiments indicate that the frictional strength of many of the fault rocks is too high to explain slip along the Zuccale fault. However, several potential mechanisms of fault zone weakening have been identified, including fluid-assisted dissolution-precipitation creep, grain-size sensitive creep in calcite mylonites, frictional sliding within phyllosilicate-rich areas of the fault core, high fluid pressures, and particulate flow accommodated by fine-grained clay minerals. Fluids associated with the Zuccale fault were derived from two main sources. During the relatively early stages of movement, and particularly during the intrusion of plutonic complexes, fluids were of meteoric-hydrothermal origin. During the late stages of exhumation, fluids were derived from a seawater source that infiltrated downwards through faulted and fractured wall rocks. Sub-horizontal tensile veins carrying both fluid signatures are found adjacent to and within the fault core, suggesting that supra-lithostatic fluid pressures were able to develop throughout the exhumation history. One of the consequences of high fluid pressures was the development of a suite of fluidized fault breccias, a newly recognized type of fault rock that may be indicative of the interseismic stage of the earthquake cycle.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Date:2009
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:08 Sep 2011 18:25

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