Spontaneous generation of ductile shear zones by thermal softening: Localization criterion, 1D to 3D modelling and application to the lithosphere

Abstract : The generation of ductile shear zones is essential for the formation of tectonic plate boundaries, such as subduction or strike-slip zones. However, the primary mechanism of ductile strain localization is still contentious. We study here the spontaneous generation of ductile shear zones by thermal softening using thermo-mechanical numerical simulations for linear and power-law viscous flow in one-dimension (1D), 2D and 3D. All models are velocity-driven. The 1D model exhibits bulk simple shear whereas the 2D and 3D models exhibit bulk pure shear. The initial conditions include a small temperature perturbation in otherwise homogeneous material. We use a series of 1D simulations to determine a new analytical formula which predicts the temperature evolution inside the shear zone. This temperature prediction requires knowledge of only the boundary velocity, flow law and thermal parameters, but no a priori information about the shear zone itself, such as thickness, stress and strain rate. The prediction is valid for 1D, 2D and 3D shear zones in bulk pure and simple shear. The results show that shear heating dominates over conductive cooling if the relative temperature increase is >50 °C. The temperature variation induced by the shear zone is nearly one order of magnitude wider than the corresponding finite strain variation so that no significant temperature variation occurs between shear zone and wall rock. Applying typical flow laws for lithospheric rocks shows that shear zone generation by thermal softening occurs for typical plate tectonic velocities of few cm.yr−1 or strain rates between and s−1. Shear stresses larger than 200 MPa can already cause strain localization. The results indicate that thermal softening is a feasible mechanism for spontaneous ductile shear zone generation in the lithosphere and may be one of the primary mechanisms of lithospheric strain localization.
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Submitted on : Wednesday, June 5, 2019 - 8:15:31 AM
Last modification on : Friday, June 14, 2019 - 10:34:30 AM

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Daniel Kiss, Yuri Podladchikov, Thibault Duretz, Stefan Schmalholz. Spontaneous generation of ductile shear zones by thermal softening: Localization criterion, 1D to 3D modelling and application to the lithosphere. Earth and Planetary Science Letters, Elsevier, 2019, 519, pp.284-296. ⟨10.1016/j.epsl.2019.05.026⟩. ⟨insu-02147766⟩

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