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  1. 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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  2. Abstract

    High‐spatial resolution textural and geochemical data from thin slip surfaces in exhumed fault zones archive thermal and rheological signatures of past fault slip. A network of minor, glossy, iridescent silica fault mirrors (FMs) cut Paleoproterozoic gneiss in the Wasatch fault zone (WFZ), Utah. We report field to nanoscale observations from scanning electron microscopy, electron backscattered diffraction, and transmission electron microscopy with energy‐dispersive X‐ray spectroscopy of a silica FM to infer deformation mechanisms during FM development. The FM volume comprises a ∼40–90 μm‐thick basal layer of sintered, µm‐ to nm‐diameter silica particles with polygonal to anhedral morphologies, pervasive crystalline Ti‐bearing phases containing measurable N, and µm‐ to nm‐scale void spaces. Silica particles lack shape and crystallographic preferred orientation and some are predominantly amorphous with internal crystalline domains. The basal layer is overlain by a ∼10–130 nm‐thick, chemically heterogeneous, amorphous film at the FM interface. Mass balance calculations of Ti in the basal layer and host rock indicate the FM volume can be sourced from the underlying gneiss. Multiple textural and geochemical lines of evidence, including N substitution in Ti‐bearing phases, support temperature rise during deformation, associated amorphization of host gneiss, and creation of the FM volume. During thermal decay, interstitial anatase and titanite fully crystallized, silica textures capture their incipient crystallization, and some residual elements are solidified in the nanofilm. Our results support a mechanism of weakening and re‐strengthening of silica FM during fault slip and, together with data from adjacent hematite FMs, record shallow, ancient microseismicity in the WFZ.

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