Piezometry and Strain Rate Estimates Along Mid-Crustal Shear Zones

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Virginia Tech

Dynamically recrystallized quartz microstructure and grainsize evolution along mid-crustal shear zones allows for the estimation of tectonic driving stresses and strain rates acting in the mid-crust. Quartz-rich tectonites from three exhumed mid-crustal shear zones, the Main Central Thrust (MCT; Sutlej valley, NW India), South Tibetan Detachment System (STDS; Rongbuk valley, S Tibet), and Moine thrust (NW Scotland), were analyzed. Deformation temperatures estimated from quartz microstructural and petrofabric thermometers indicate steep apparent thermal gradients (80–420 °C/km) across 0.5–2.3 km thick sample transects across each shear zone. Quartz recrystallization microstructures evolve from transitional bulging/sub-grain rotation to dominant grain boundary migration at ~ 200 m structural distance as traced away from each shear zone. Optically measured quartz grainsizes increase from ~ 30 μm nearest the shear zones to 120+ μm at the largest structural distances. First-order Zener space analysis across the Moine nappe suggests strong phyllosilicate control on recrystallized quartz grainsize. Recrystallized quartz grainsize piezometry indicates that differential stress levels sharply decrease away from the shear zones from ~ 35 MPa to 10 MPa at ~ 200 m structural distance. Strain rates estimated with quartz dislocation creep flow laws are tectonically reasonable, between 10⁻¹² – 10⁻¹⁴ s⁻¹. Traced towards each shear zone strain rate estimates first decrease one order of magnitude before rapidly increasing one to two orders of magnitude at structural distances of ~ 200 m. This kinked strain rate profile is likely due to the steep apparent thermal gradients and relatively constant differential stress levels at large structural distances.

Moine Thrust, Main Central Thrust, quartz piezometry, flow law, Greater Himalayan Series, South Tibetan Detachment System