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Journal Articles Tectonophysics Year : 2007

Strain localisation in the subcontinental mantle - a ductile alternative to the brittle mantle

Jacques Précigout
Denis Gapais
  • Function : Author
C.J. Garrido
  • Function : Author
Abderrahim Essaifi
  • Function : Author


It is now admitted that the high strength of the subcontinental uppermost mantle controls the first order strength of the lithosphere. An incipient narrow continental rift therefore requires an important weakening in the subcontinental mantle to promote lithosphere-scale strain localisation and subsequent continental break-up. Based on the classical rheological layering of the continental lithosphere, the origin of a lithospheric mantle shear/fault zone has been attributed to the existence of a brittle uppermost mantle. However, the lack of mantle earthquakes and the absence of field occurrences in the mantle fault zone led to the idea of a ductile-related weakening mechanism, instead of brittle-related, for the incipient mantle strain localisation. In order to provide evidence for this mechanism, we investigated the microstructures and lattice preferred orientations of mantle rocks in a kilometre-scale ductile strain gradient in the Ronda Peridotites (Betics cordillera, Spain). Two main features were shown: 1) grain size reduction by dynamic recrystallisation is found to be the only relevant weakening mechanism responsible for strain localisation and 2), with increasing strain, grain size reduction is coeval with both the scattering of orthopyroxene neoblasts and the decrease of the olivine fabric strength (LPO). These features allow us to propose that grain boundary sliding (GBS) partly accommodates dynamic recrystallisation and subsequent grain size reduction. A new GBS-related experimental deformation mechanism, called dry-GBS creep, has been shown to accommodate grain size reduction during dynamic recrystallisation and to induce significant weakening at low temperatures (T < 800 ¡C). The present microstructural study demonstrates the occurrence of the grain size sensitive dry-GBS creep in natural continental peridotites and allows us to propose a new rheological model for the subcontinental mantle. During dynamic recrystallisation, the accommodation of grain size reduction by three competing deformation mechanisms, i.e., dislocation, diffusion and dry-GBS creeps, involves a grain size reduction controlled by the sole dislocation creep at high temperatures (> 800 °C), whereas dislocation creep and dry-GBS creep, are the accommodating mechanisms at low temperatures (< 800 °C). Consequently, weakening is very limited if the grain size reduction occurs at temperatures higher than 800 °C, whereas a large weakening is expected in lower temperatures. This large weakening related to GBS creep would occur at depths lower than 60 km and therefore provides an explanation for ductile strain localisation in the uppermost continental mantle, thus providing an alternative to the brittle mantle.

Dates and versions

insu-00260381 , version 1 (04-03-2008)



Jacques Précigout, Frédéric Gueydan, Denis Gapais, C.J. Garrido, Abderrahim Essaifi. Strain localisation in the subcontinental mantle - a ductile alternative to the brittle mantle. Tectonophysics, 2007, 445 (3-4), pp.318-336. ⟨10.1016/j.tecto.2007.09.002⟩. ⟨insu-00260381⟩
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