Serpentinites are polymineralic rocks distributed almost ubiquitously across the globe in active tectonic regions. Magnetite-rich serpentinites are found in the low-strain domains of serpentinite shear zones, which act as potential sites of nucleation of unstable slip. To assess the potential of earthquake nucleation in these materials, we investigate the link between mechanical properties and fabric of these rocks through a suite of laboratory shear experiments. Our experiments were done at room temperature and cover a range of normal stress and slip velocity from 25 to 100 MPa and 0.3 to 300 μm s-1, respectively. We show that magnetite-rich serpentinites are ideal materials since they display strong sensitivity to the loading rate and are susceptible to nucleation of unstable slip, especially at low forcing slip velocities. We also aim at the integration of mechanical and microstructural results to describe the underlying mechanisms that produce the macroscopic behaviour. We show that mineralogical composition and mineral structure dictates the coexistence of two deformation mechanisms leading to stable and unstable slip. The weakness of phyllosilicates allows for creep during the interseismic phase of the laboratory seismic cycle while favouring the restoration of a load-bearing granular framework, responsible of the nucleation of unstable events. During dynamic slip, fault zone shear fabric determines the mode of slip, producing either asymmetric or Gaussian slip time functions for either fast or slow events. We report rate/state friction parameters and integrate our mechanical data with microstructural observations to shed light on the mechanisms dictating the complexity of laboratory earthquakes. We show that mineralogical and fabric heterogeneities control fault slip behaviour.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Geochemistry and Petrology