Hydrothermal extension veins form by hydraulic fracturing under triaxial stress (principal compressive stresses, σ 1 > σ 2 > σ 3) when the pore-fluid pressure, P f, exceeds the least compressive stress by the rock’s tensile strength. Such veins form perpendicular to σ 3, their incremental precipitation from hydrothermal fluid often reflected in ‘crack-seal’ textures, demonstrating that the tensile overpressure state, σ 3′ = (σ 3 − P f) < 0, was repeatedly met. Systematic arrays of extension veins develop locally in both sub-metamorphic and metamorphic assemblages defining tensile overpressure compartments where at some time P f > σ 3. In compressional regimes (σ v = σ 3), subhorizontal extension veins may develop over vertical intervals <1 km or so below low-permeability sealing horizons with tensile strengths 10 < T o < 20 MPa. This is borne out by natural vein arrays. For a low-angle thrust, the vertical interval where the tensile overpressure state obtains may continue down-dip over distances of several kilometres in some instances. The overpressure condition for hydraulic fracturing is comparable to that needed for frictional reshear of a thrust fault lying close to the maximum compression, σ 1. Under these circumstances, especially where the shear zone material has varying competence (tensile strength), affecting the failure mode, dilatant fault–fracture mesh structures may develop throughout a tabular rock volume. Evidence for the existence of fault–fracture meshes around low-angle thrusts comes from exhumed ancient structures and from active structures. In the case of megathrust ruptures along subduction interfaces, force balance analyses, lack of evidence for shear heating, and evidence of total shear stress release during earthquakes suggest the interfaces are extremely weak (τ < 40 MPa), consistent with weakening by near-lithostatically overpressured fluids. Portions of the subduction interface, especially towards the down-dip termination of the seismogenic megathrust, are prone to episodes of slow-slip, non-volcanic tremor, low-frequency earthquakes, very-low-frequency earthquakes, etc., attributable to the activation of tabular fault–fracture meshes at low σ 3′ around the thrust interface. Containment of near-lithostatic overpressures in such settings is precarious, fluid loss curtailing mesh activity.[Figure not available: see fulltext.]
Earth, Planets and Space – Springer Journals
Published: Aug 15, 2017
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