Electrical conductivity images of active and fossil fault zones

Geological Society of London Special Publications
By: , and 



We compare recent magnetotelluric investigations of four large fault systems: (i) the actively deforming, ocean-continent interplate San Andreas Fault (SAF); (ii) the actively deforming, continent-continent interplate Dead Sea Transform (DST); (iii) the currently inactive, trench-linked intraplate West Fault (WF) in northern Chile; and (iv) the Waterberg Fault/Omaruru Lineament (WF/OL) in Namibia, a fossilized intraplate shear zone formed during early Proterozoic continental collision. These fault zones show both similarities and marked differences in their electrical subsurface structure. The central segment of the SAF is characterized by a zone of high conductivity extending to a depth of several kilometres and attributed to fluids within a highly fractured damage zone. The WF exhibits a less pronounced but similar fault-zone conductor (FZC) that can be explained by meteoric waters entering the fault zone. The DST appears different as it shows a distinct lack of a FZC and seems to act primarily as an impermeable barrier to cross-fault fluid transport. Differences in the electrical structure of these faults within the upper crust may be linked to the degree of deformation localization within the fault zone. At the DST, with no observable fault-zone conductor, strain may have been localized for a considerable time span along a narrow, metre-scale damage zone with a sustained strength difference between the shear plane and the surrounding host rock. In the case of the SAF, a positive correlation of conductance and fault activity is observed, with more active fault segments associated with wider, deeper and more conductive fault-zone anomalies. Fault-zone conductors, however, do not uniquely identify specific architectural or hydrological units of a fault. A more comprehensive whole-fault picture for the brittle crust can be developed in combination with seismicity and structural information. Giving a window into lower-crustal shear zones, the fossil WF/OL in Namibia is imaged as a subvertical, 14 km-deep, 10 km-wide zone of high and anisotropic conductivity. The present level of exhumation suggests that the WF/OL penetrated the entire crust as a relatively narrow shear zone. Contrary to the fluid-driven conductivity anomalies of active faults, the anomaly here is attributed to graphitic enrichment along former shear planes. Once created, graphite is stable over very long time spans and thus fault/shear zones may remain conductive long after activity ceases.

Study Area

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Electrical conductivity images of active and fossil fault zones
Series title Geological Society of London Special Publications
DOI 10.1144/GSL.SP.2005.245.01.08
Volume 245
Year Published 2005
Language English
Publisher Geological Society of London
Contributing office(s) Crustal Geophysics and Geochemistry Science Center
Description 22 p.
First page 165
Last page 186
Country United States, Jordan, Chile, Namibia
State California
Other Geospatial San Andreas fault, Arava fault, Western fault, Waterberg fault
Google Analytics Metrics Metrics page
Additional publication details