Abstract Evidence for coseismic temperature rise that induces dynamic weakening is challenging to directly observe and quantify in natural and experimental fault rocks. Hematite (U-Th)/He (hematite He) thermochronometry may serve as a fault-slip thermometer, sensitive to transient high temperatures associated with earthquakes. We test this hypothesis with hematite deformation experiments at seismic slip rates, using a rotary-shear geometry with an annular ring of silicon carbide (SiC) sliding against a specular hematite slab. Hematite is characterized before and after sliding via textural and hematite He analyses to quantify He loss over variable experimental conditions. Experiments yield slip surfaces localized in an ∼5–30-µm-thick layer of hematite gouge with <300-µm-diameter fault mirror (FM) zones made of sintered nanoparticles. Hematite He analyses of undeformed starting material are compared with those of FM and gouge run products from high-slip-velocity experiments, showing >71% ± 1% (1σ) and 18% ± 3% He loss, respectively. Documented He loss requires short-duration, high temperatures during slip. The spatial heterogeneity and enhanced He loss from FM zones are consistent with asperity flash heating (AFH). Asperities >200–300 µm in diameter, producing temperatures >900 °C for ∼1 ms, can explain observed He loss. Results provide new empirical evidence describing AFH and the rolemore »
Nanoscale evidence for temperature-induced transient rheology and postseismic fault healing
Abstract Friction-generated heat and the subsequent thermal evolution control fault material properties and thus strength during the earthquake cycle. We document evidence for transient, nanoscale fault rheology on a high-gloss, light-reflective hematite fault mirror (FM). The FM cuts specularite with minor quartz from the Pleistocene El Laco Fe-ore deposit, northern Chile. Scanning and transmission electron microscopy data reveal that the FM volume comprises a <50-μm-thick zone of polygonal hematite nanocrystals with spherical silica inclusions, rhombohedral twins, no shape or crystallographic preferred orientation, decreasing grain size away from the FM surface, and FM surface magnetite nanoparticles and Fe2+ suboxides. Sub–5-nm-thick silica films encase hematite grains and connect to amorphous interstitial silica. Observations imply that coseismic shear heating (temperature >1000 °C) generated transiently amorphous, intermixed but immiscible, and rheologically weak Fe-oxide and silica. Hematite regrowth in a fault-perpendicular thermal gradient, sintering, twinning, and a topographic network of nanometer-scale ridges from crystals interlocking across the FM surface collectively restrengthened fault material. Results reveal how temperature-induced weakening preconditions fault healing. Nanoscale transformations may promote subsequent strain delocalization and development of off-fault damage.
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- 1203 to 1207
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- National Science Foundation
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