The structural architecture of seismogenic faults, Sierra Nevada, California; implications for earthquake rupture processes

Kirkpatrick, James David (2008) The structural architecture of seismogenic faults, Sierra Nevada, California; implications for earthquake rupture processes. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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Earthquake ruptures along tectonically active faults nucleate predominantly at depths of 5 to 12km in the crust, so the portions of faults that slip in these events cannot be directly observed. The geometry and composition of seismogenic faults controls the nucleation, propagation and termination of the earthquake rupture process. This study aims to place constraints on the geometry and composition of seismogenic faults by examining ancient faults exhumed from the depths at which earthquakes are observed to nucleate.

Faults exposed in the Sierra Nevada, California, show that the internal architecture of earthquake faults is heterogeneous at a variety of scales. Field and microstructural observations are used to describe in detail the architecture of two pseudotachylyte-bearing fault systems in the Granite Pass region of Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park; the Granite Pass fault (GPF) and associated faults, and the Glacier Lakes fault (GLF) and faults that splay from the GLF. The GPF and sub-parallel faults are 1 to 6.7km long with left-lateral strike-slip displacements up to 80m. The GPF and GPF-parallel faults have architectures that are heterogeneous along strike. They are composed of one to four fault core strands containing cataclasites and ultracataclasites that cross-cut early localized crystal-plastic deformation. Slip surfaces developed at the edges of, within and between fault cores are defined by pseudotachylytes and cataclasites with thicknesses of ~0.01 to 20mm. Fault-related subsidiary structures are developed on either side of fault cores, and comprise damage zones with widths orthogonal to the fault of up to 30m. The GLF and splay faults have architectures that are more homogeneous along strike. These faults are composed of a tabular volume of heavily fractured and altered host rock between approximately planar fault core strands. The fault cores are centimetres wide and contain cataclasites and foliated cataclasites that are cross-cut by pseudotachylytes. Fault-related damage is limited in extent to several metres beyond the bounding fault cores. The GLF contains additional cataclasites, ultracataclasites and pseudotachylytes in a fault core strand within the tabular zone of fractured rock.

Thermochronologic analyses of the host rock granodiorite, combined with previously published palaeogeobarometry and apatite fission track data, define the temperature and pressure changes associated with cooling and exhumation of the pluton. The P-T conditions prevalent during the deformation history of the GPF fault system are evaluated by relating recrystallisation mechanisms in quartz to temperature, showing that the early stages of deformation occurred at temperatures of 450 to 600ºC. Dating of pseudotachylytes by the K-Ar isotopic method suggests subsequent brittle deformation took place at temperatures <350ºC and pressures ≤150MPa. A model for the architecture of the GPF architecture therefore has well constrained environmental controls, and should be transferrable to faults with comparable deformation histories.

Small faults (cumulative displacements <1m) in the Mount Abbot Quadrangle, 55km north of Granite Pass, have been examined to illustrate the processes associated with the earliest stages of slip in the Sierra Nevada faults. The faults have branched or straight fault traces. Pseudotachylytes in branching faults show that these faults accumulated displacement in high velocity slip events, rather than by quasi-static fault growth. Branching faults without pseudotachylytes contain chlorite breccias interpreted to have formed in response to slip along faults with elevated pore fluid pressure. Straight faults also likely underwent slip events, but contain cataclased chlorite and epidote, suggesting low fluid pressures during slip. The small faults show that fluid-rock interactions are critical to fault geometry, and that lateral structural heterogeneity is established after small finite displacements. Field and thin section observations of exhumed seismogenic faults show that fault architecture and fault rock assemblage are critical to the earthquake rupture process. The heterogeneous composition of slip surfaces in the GPF faults imply that melt lubrication cannot account for all of the dynamic slip weakening as there are no continuous pseudotachylyte generation surfaces through the fault zones. Multiple slip weakening mechanisms must have been active during single rupture events. Slip weakening mechanisms also change at a given point on the fault in response to continued deformation. Splay faults at the GLF termination suggest that structural complexity observed at the terminations of fault surface traces can also be expected at depth. The off-fault damage at the termination of the GLF will change the bulk elastic properties of the host rock and must be accounted for in models of rupture propagation beyond fault terminations, or across geometrical discontinuities. Additionally, aftershock distributions and focal mechanisms may be controlled by the geometry of structures present at fault terminations.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: Structural geology, earthquake, slip weakening, Sierra Nevada, pseudotachylyte, seismogenic, fault, structural architecture.
Subjects: Q Science > QE Geology
Colleges/Schools: College of Science and Engineering > School of Geographical and Earth Sciences
Supervisor's Name: Shipton, Dr Zoe and Dempster, Dr Tim
Date of Award: 2008
Depositing User: Mr James Kirkpatrick
Unique ID: glathesis:2008-179
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 25 Jun 2008
Last Modified: 10 Dec 2012 13:16

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