Rock mechanics observations pertinent to the rheology of the continental lithosphere and the localization of strain along shear zones




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Emphasized in this paper are the deformation processes and rheologies of rocks at high temperatures and high effective pressures, conditions that are presumably appropriate to the lower crust and upper mantle in continental collision zones. Much recent progress has been made in understanding the flexure of the oceanic lithosphere using rock-mechanics-based yield criteria for the inelastic deformations at the top and base. At mid-plate depths, stresses are likely to be supported elastically because bending strains and elastic stresses are low. The collisional tectonic regime, however, is far more complex because very large permanent strains are sustained at mid-plate depths and this requires us to include the broad transition between brittle and ductile flow. Moreover, important changes in the ductile flow mechanisms occur at the intermediate temperatures found at mid-plate depths. Two specific contributions of laboratory rock rheology research are considered in this paper. First, the high-temperature steady-state flow mechanisms and rheology of mafic and ultramafic rocks are reviewed with special emphasis on olivine and crystalline rocks. Rock strength decreases very markedly with increases in temperature and it is the onset of flow by high temperature ductile mechanisms that defines the base of the lithosphere. The thickness of the continental lithosphere can therefore be defined by the depth to a particular isotherm Tc above which (at geologic strain rates) the high-temperature ductile strength falls below some arbitrary strength isobar (e.g., 100 MPa). For olivine Tc is about 700??-800??C but for other crustal silicates, Tc may be as low as 400??-600??C, suggesting that substantial decoupling may take place within thick continental crust and that strength may increase with depth at the Moho, as suggested by a number of workers on independent grounds. Put another way, the Moho is a rheological discontinuity. A second class of laboratory observations pertains to the general phenomenon of ductile faulting in which ductile strains are localized into shear zones. Ductile faults have been produced in experiments of five different rock types and is generally expressed as strain softening in constant-strain-rate tests or as an accelerating-creep-rate stage at constant differential stress. A number of physical mechanisms have been identified that may be responsible for ductile faulting, including the onset of dynamic recrystallization, phase changes, hydrothermal alteration and hydrolytic weakening. Microscopic evidence for these processes as well as larger-scale geological and geophysical observations suggest that ductile faulting in the middle to lower crust and upper mantle may greatly influence the distribution and magnitudes of differential stresses and the style of deformation in the overlying upper continental lithosphere. ?? 1985.

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Rock mechanics observations pertinent to the rheology of the continental lithosphere and the localization of strain along shear zones
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