The San Andreas Fault zone in central California accommodates tectonic strain by stable slip and microseismic activity. We study microstructural controls of strength and deformation in the fault using core samples provided by the San Andreas Fault Observatory at Depth (SAFOD) including gouge corresponding to presently active shearing intervals in the main borehole. The methods of study include high-resolution optical and electron microscopy, X-ray fluorescence mapping, X-ray powder diffraction, energy dispersive X-ray spectroscopy, white light interferometry, and image processing.The fault zone at the SAFOD site consists of a strongly deformed and foliated core zone that includes 2-3 m thick active shear zones, surrounded by less deformed rocks. Results suggest deformation and foliation of the core zone outside the active shear zones by alternating cataclasis and pressure solution mechanisms. The active shear zones, considered zones of large-scale shear localization, appear to be associated with an abundance of weak phases including smectite clays, serpentinite alteration products, and amorphous material. We suggest that deformation along the active shear zones is by a granular-type flow mechanism that involves frictional sliding of microlithons along phyllosilicate-rich Riedel shear surfaces as well as stress-driven diffusive mass transfer. The microstructural data may be interpreted to suggest that deformation in the active shear zones is strongly displacement-weakening. The fault creeps because the velocity strengthening weak gouge in the active shear zones is being sheared without strong restrengthening mechanisms such as cementation or fracture sealing. Possible mechanisms for the observed microseismicity in the creeping segment of the SAF include local high fluid pressure build-ups, hard asperity development by fracture-and-seal cycles, and stress build-up due to slip zone undulations. © 2012 Elsevier Ltd.
A microstructural study of fault rocks from the SAFOD: Implications for the deformation mechanisms and strength of the creeping segment of the San Andreas Fault / Hadizadeh, J.; Mittempergher, S.; Gratier, J. -P.; Renard, F.; Di Toro, G.; Richard, J.; Babaie, H. A.. - In: JOURNAL OF STRUCTURAL GEOLOGY. - ISSN 0191-8141. - 42:(2012), pp. 246-260. [10.1016/j.jsg.2012.04.011]