The presence of smectite (saponite) in fault gouge from the Central Deforming Zone of the San Andreas Fault at Parkfield, CA has been linked to low mechanical strength and aseismic slip. However, the precise relationship between clay mineral structure, fabric development, fault strength, and the stability of frictional sliding is not well understood. We address these questions through the integration of laboratory friction tests and FIB-SEM analysis of fault rock recovered from the San Andreas Fault Observatory at Depth (SAFOD) borehole. Intact fault rock was compared with experimentally sheared fault gouge and different proportions of either quartz clasts or SAFOD clasts extracted from the sample. Nano-textural measurements show the development of localized clay particle alignment along shear folia developed within synthetic gouges; such slip planes have multiples of random distribution (MRD) values of 3.0–4.9. The MRD values measured are higher than previous estimates (MRD 1.5) that show lower degrees of shear localization and clay alignment averaged over larger volumes. The intact fault rock exhibits less well-developed nano-clay fabrics than the experimentally sheared materials, and MRD values decrease with smectite content. We show that the abundance, strength, and shape of clasts all influence fabric evolution via strain localization: quartz clasts yield more strongly developed clay fabrics than serpentine-dominated SAFOD clasts. Our results suggest that (1) both clay abundance and the development of nano-scale fabrics play a role in fault zone weakening and (2) aseismic creep is promoted by slip along clay shears with >20 wt % smectite content and MRD values ≥2.7.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Geochemistry and Petrology