Experimental Investigation of Gouges and Cataclasites, Alpine Fault, New Zealand
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
The upper 8-12 km of the Alpine Fault, South Island, New Zealand, accommodates relative Australia-Pacific plate boundary motion through coseismic slip accompanying large-magnitude earthquakes. Earthquakes occur due to frictional instabilities on faults, and their nucleation, propagation, and arrest is governed by tectonic forces and fault zone properties. A multi-disciplinary dataset is presented on the lithological, microstructural, mineralogical, geochemical, hydrological, and frictional properties of Alpine Fault rocks collected from natural fault exposures and from Deep Fault Drilling Project (DFDP-1) drillcore. Results quantify and describe the physical and chemical processes that affect seismicity and slip accommodation.
Oblique dextral motion on the central Alpine Fault in the last 5-8 Myr has exhumed garnet-oligoclase facies mylonitic fault rocks from depths of up to 35 km. During the last phase of exhumation, brittle deformation of these mylonites, accompanied by fluid infiltration, has resulted in complex mineralogical and lithological variations in the fault rocks. Petrophysical, geochemical, and lithological data reveal that the fault comprises a central alteration zone of protocataclasites, foliated and nonfoliated cataclasites, and fault gouges bounded by a damage zone containing fractured ultramylonites and mylonites. Mineralogical results suggest that at least two stages of chemical alteration have occurred. At, or near, the brittle-to-ductile transition (c. >320 °C), metasomatic alteration reactions resulted in plagioclase and feldspar replacement by muscovite and sausserite, and biotite (phlogopite), hornblende (actinolite) and/or epidote replacement by chlorite (clinochlore). At lower temperatures (c. >120°C), primary minerals were altered to kaolinite, smectite and pyrite, or kaolinite, smectite, Fe-hydroxide (goethite) and carbonate, depending on redox conditions. Ultramylonites, nonfoliated and foliated cataclasites, and gouges in the hanging wall and footwall contain the high-temperature phyllosilicates chlorite and white mica (muscovite/illite). Brown principal slip zone (PSZ) gouges contain the low-temperature phyllosilicates kaolinite and smecite, and goethite and carbonate cements.
The frictional and hydrological properties of saturated intact samples of central Alpine Fault surface-outcrop gouges and cataclasites were investigated in room temperature experiments conducted at 30-33 MPa effective normal stress (σn') using a double-direct shear configuration and controlled pore fluid pressure in a triaxial pressure vessel. Surface-outcrop samples from Gaunt Creek, location of DFDP-1, displayed, with increasing distance (up to 50 cm) from the contact with footwall fluvioglacial gravels: (1) an increase in fault normal permeability (k = 7.45 x 10⁻²⁰ m² to k = 1.15 x 10⁻¹⁶ m²), (2) a transition from frictionally weak (μ=0.44) fault gouge to frictionally strong (μ=0.50’0.55) cataclasite, (3) a change in friction rate dependence (a–b) from solely velocity strengthening to velocity strengthening and weakening, and (4) an increase in the rate of frictional healing. The frictional and hydrological properties of saturated intact samples of southern Alpine Fault surface-outcrop gouges were also investigated in room temperature double-direct shear experiments conducted at σn'= 6-31 MPa. Three complete cross-sections logged from outcrops of the southern Alpine Fault at Martyr River, McKenzie Creek, and Hokuri Creek show that dextral-normal slip is localized to a single 1-12 m-thick fault core comprising impermeable (k=10⁻²⁰ to 10⁻²² m²), frictionally weak (μ=0.12 – 0.37), velocity-strengthening, illite-chlorite and trioctahedral smectite (saponite)-chlorite-lizardite fault gouges. In low velocity room temperature experiments, Alpine Fault gouges tested have behaviours associated with aseismic creep.
In a triaxial compression apparatus, the frictional properties of PSZ gouge samples recovered from DFDP-1 drillcore at 90 and 128 m depths were tested at temperatures up to T=350°C and effective normal stresses up to σn'=156 MPa to constrain the fault's strength and stability under conditions representative of the seismogenic crust. The chlorite/white mica-bearing DFDP-1A blue gouge is frictionally strong (μ=0.61–0.76) across a range of experimental conditions (T=70–350°C, σn'=31.2–156 MPa) and undergoes a stability transition from velocity strengthening to velocity weakening as T increases past 210°C, σn'=31.2–156 MPa. The coefficient of friction of smecite-bearing DFDP-1B brown gouge increases from μ=0.49 to μ=0.74 with increasing temperature and pressure (T=70–210°C, σn'=31.2–93.6 MPa) and it undergoes a transition from velocity strengthening to velocity weakening as T increases past 140°C, σn'=62.4 MPa. In low velocity hydrothermal experiments, Alpine Fault gouges have behaviours associated with potentially unstable, seismic slip at temperatures ≥140°C, depending on mineralogy.
High-velocity (v=1 m/s), low normal stress (σn=1 MPa) friction experiments conducted on a rotary shear apparatus showed that the peak coefficient of friction (μp) of Alpine Fault cataclasites and fault gouges was consistently high (mean μp=0.69±0.06) in room-dry experiments. Variations in fault rock mineralogy and permeability were more apparent in experiments conducted with pore fluid, wherein the peak coefficient of friction of the cataclasites (mean μp=0.64±0.04) was higher than the fault gouges (mean μp=0.24±0.16). All fault rocks exhibited very low steady state coefficients of friction (μss) (room-dry mean μss=0.18±0.04; saturated mean μss=0.10±0.04). Three high-velocity experiments conducted on saturated smectite-bearing principal slip zone (PSZ) fault gouges had the lowest peak friction coefficients (μp=0.13-0.18), lowest steady state friction coefficients (μss=0.02-0.10), and lowest breakdown work values (WB=0.07-0.11 MJ/m²) of all the experiments performed.
Lower strength (μ < c. 0.62) velocity-strengthening fault rocks comprising a realistically heterogeneous fault plane represent barrier(s) to rupture propagation. A wide range of gouges and cataclasites exhibited very low steady state friction coefficients in high-velocity friction experiments. However, earthquake rupture nucleation in frictionally strong (μ ≥ c. 0.62), velocity-weakening material provides the acceleration necessary to overcome the low-velocity rupture propagation barrier(s) posed by velocity-strengthening gouges and cataclasites. Mohr-Coulomb theory stipulates that sufficient shear stress must be resolved on the Alpine Fault, or pore fluid pressure must be sufficiently high, for earthquakes to nucleate in strong, unstable fault materials. A three-dimensional stress analysis was conducted using the average orientation of the central and southern Alpine Fault, the experimentally determined coefficient of friction of velocity-weakening DFDP-1A blue gouge, and the seismologically determined stress tensor and stress shape ratio(s). Results reveal that for a coefficient of friction of μ ≥ c. 0.62, the Alpine Fault is unfavourably oriented to severely misoriented for frictional slip.