The roles of quartz and water in controlling unstable slip in phyllosilicate-rich megathrust fault gouges

Sabine A.M. Den Hartog, Demian M. Saffer, Christopher J. Spiers

Research output: Contribution to journalLetterpeer-review

18 Scopus citations


A recent microphysical model for the steady-state frictional behaviour of wet illite/quartz gouges in subduction megathrust settings predicts that velocity-weakening in the seismogenic zone results from a competition between shear-induced dilatation and compaction involving water-assisted, thermally activated deformation (pressure solution) of quartz clasts. While this model is supported by experimental data, proof that quartz and water are a requirement for velocity-weakening is lacking. Here, we report on shearing experiments on water-saturated (near-)pure illite and dry 65/35 illite/quartz gouges, deformed at P-T conditions near those in situ at seismogenic depths along subduction megathrusts. We used low sliding velocities relevant to earthquake nucleation and slow slip events (1 to 100 μm/s). Previous experiments on wet illite/quartz gouges under the same conditions documented three regimes of slip stability, with velocity-strengthening at 150°C to 250°C and 400°C to 500°C, and velocity-weakening at 250°C to 400°C. In the present study, wet illite gouge exhibited similar three-regime behaviour, but with velocity-neutral rather than velocity-weakening behaviour at the intermediate temperatures. Dry illite/quartz gouge exhibited near velocity-neutral behaviour at all temperatures investigated. These results confirm that water-assisted, thermally activated quartz deformation is a key process in the velocity-weakening behaviour at intermediate temperatures in wet illite/quartz gouges and support the existing microphysical model. The implication of this model is that seismogenesis occurs under conditions where creep by thermally activated quartz deformation is fast enough to moderate ‘brittle’ dilatation to remain at subcritical porosity values but too slow to allow ductile shear of clasts.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number78
JournalEarth, Planets and Space
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2014

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geology
  • Space and Planetary Science


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