Determination of ambient conditions during coseismic formation of pseudotachylyte by means of Ti-in-quartz geothermometry and Ar-Ar dating

Third party funded individual grant

Project Details

Project leader:
Dr. Michael Bestmann
Prof. Dr. Helga de Wall
Prof. Dr. Mathias Göken

Contributing FAU Organisations:
Lehrstuhl für Werkstoffwissenschaften (Allgemeine Werkstoffeigenschaften)
Professur für Geologie unter besonderer Berücksichtigung der Strukturgeologie [Tektonik] und Photogeologie

Funding source: DFG-Einzelförderung / Sachbeihilfe (EIN-SBH)
Start date: 01/02/2011
End date: 31/01/2012

Abstract (technical / expert description):

Despite a wealth of data about seismic fault zones there is an ongoing discussion about the possibility of frictional melting of quartzitic rocks. In the present study we analysed fault vein bearing fault zones within quartzitic rocks within the Schneeberg Normal Fault Zone (SNFZ), Southern Tirol, Italy. Electron microscopy (scanning electron microscopy, SEM, including electron back scatter diffraction, EBSD, and cathodoluminescence, CL, analysis  in combination with transmission electron microscopy, TEM) analyses revealed that the fault veins (0.5-2 mm thick) are not ultracataclastic zones as presumed initially (see original title of the project WA 1010/11-1). Instead an extensive melting and subsequent quenching of quartz is evident. These quenched friction-induced melts along a fault during seismic slips are so-called tectonic pseudotachylytes and record paleo-earthquakes.  Pseudotachylytes are typically considered to be representative for the brittle upper crust and in association with cataclasites. However the Schneeberg NFZ quartzites show clear evidence of crystal plasticity and dynamic recrystallization resulting in ultrafine-grained (1-2 µm) aggregates along microshear zones (50-150 µm thick) in the host rock adjacent to pseudotachylyte veins. Ar-Ar dating of the Schneeberg NFZ pseudotachylyte reveal an age of 60-66 Ma and indicates that the coseismic event is younger than the greenschist facies metamorphism of the Schneeberg NFZ (76 Ma, exiting data from the literature). Thus pseudotachylyte formation should has occurred after exhumation of the Schneeberg NFZ into the brittle crust under far field ambient temperatures conditions <250-300 °C. The occurrence of such fine recrystallized quartz was also reported in other pseudotachylytes-bearing faults, but these microstructures have been overlooked in most works on pseudotachylytes (also considering that they are hardly visible with standard optical methods) and a detailed electron microscopy study including crystallographic preferred orientation analysis of the microstructure was missing. In this project we carried out a direct comparison between the deformation microfabrics of quartz in two different pseudotachylyte-bearing faults both showing the development of ultrafine-grained recrystallization aggregates: the Schneeberg NFZ quartzite and the Adamello Gole Larghe Fault Zone(GLFZ) tonalite (Southern Alps). The observations of this study suggest that the association of ultrafine recrystallization and frictional melting is a systematic feature of most pseudotachylyte-bearing faults and could yield a more complete information on the mechanics of coseismic slip. Based on thermal models we suggest that crystal plastic deformation of quartz accompanied by dramatic grain size refinement by dynamic recrystallization occurs during seismic faulting at the base of the brittle crust as a result of the high temperature transients (> 800°C) related to frictional heating in the host rock selvages of the slip surface. These localised high deformation temperatures made possible that the process of dynamic recrystallization, including recovery processes, could occur in a time lapse of a few tens of seconds.

In order to verify these modeled quartz deformation temperatures we applied the Ti-in-quartz geothermometer by measuring the Ti content in quartz by nanoSIMS. The geochemical analysis for both pseudotachylyte-bearing samples (Schneeberg NFZ and Adamello GFZL) showed that during the seismic-related development of ultrafine-grained dynamic recrystallized quartz aggregates the pre-seismic host Ti signal is inherited. Therefore no temperature related resetting of the Ti content occurs during seismically-induced quartz recrystallization. However the steep increase of Ti in quartz in the direct vicinity (1-2 µm) of melt-related submicron-sized Ti-bearing particles gives evidence of Ti diffusion and points to short-timed high temperature transient, which is consistent with the thermal modelling of pseudotachylyte vein and its host rock margin.


External Partners

University of Padua
Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle

Last updated on 2018-22-11 at 16:46