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Journal of the Geological Society

Fault rocks and fault mechanisms

Journal of the Geological Society 1977; v. 133; p. 191-213

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1977 Geological Society of


Fault rocks and fault mechanisms

R. H. S I B S O N
Physical factors likely to affect the genesis of the
various fault rocks--frictional properties, temperature, effective stress normal to the fault and
differential stress--are examined in relation to
the energy budget of fault zones, the main
velocity modes of faulting and the type of faulting, whether thrust, wrench, or normal. In a
conceptual model of a major fault zone cutting
crystalline quartzo-feldspathic crust, a zone of
elastico-frictional (EF) behaviour generating
random-fabric fault rocks (gouge--breccia-cataclasite series--pseudotachylyte) overlies a
region where quasi-plastic (QP) processes of
rock deformation operate in ductile shear zones

with the production of mylonite series rocks

possessing strong tectonite fabrics. In some cases,
fault rocks developed by transient seismic faulting can be distinguished from those generated
by slow aseismic shear. Random-fabric fault
rocks may form as a result of seismic faulting
within the ductile shear zones from time to
time, but tend to be obliterated by continued
shearing. Resistance to shear within the fault
zone reaches a peak value (greatest for thrusts
and least for normal faults) around the EF/OP
transition level, which for normal geothermal
gradients and an adequate supply of water,
occurs at depths of lO-15 km.

SINCE L A P W O R T H ' $ (I885) description of the type mylonite from the Moine
T h r u s t in N W Scotland, there have been m a n y petrographic descriptions and
classifications of the texturally distinctive rocks found associated with fault zones
(e.g. Waters & C a m p b e l l 1935, Hsu 1955, Christie 196o , 1963, R e e d 1964, Spry
I969, Higgins 1971 ). These rocks provide a tangible source of information on the
processes which operate in m a j o r fault zones, b u t little has been done to correlate
the various types of fault rock with different deformation environments and modes
of faulting.
I n this paper, I discuss the physical factors which m a y affect the genesis of fault
rocks, and m a k e some tentative correlations between their textures and deformation environments. For the most part, the effects of faulting in crystalline quartzofeldspathic crust are considered.

I. Textures and occurrence of fault rocks

I n this paper fault rocks is used as a collective t e r m for the distinctive rock types
found in zones of shear dislocation at both high and low crustal levels, whose
textures are t h o u g h t to arise at least in p a r t f r o m the shearing process. It is not
denied t h a t similar textures m a y develop in association with other geological
structures (e.g. protoclastic textures arising f r o m igneous intrusion). T h e t e r m
cataclastic rocks, introduced by Waters & C a m p b e l l (1935) as a collective n a m e for
all rocks of the g o u g e - - b r e c c i a - - c a t a c l a s i t e - - m y l o n i t e kindred, is not used because
of the misleading implication t h a t such rocks have developed solely by cataclasis.
I n the strict sense, cataclasis involves the brittle f r a g m e n t a t i o n of m i n e r a l grains
with rotation of grain fragments a c c o m p a n i e d by frictional grain b o u n d a r y sliding

dTl geol. Soc. Lond. vol. I33 , 1977, pp. 191-213, 8 figs., 3 plates, 3 tables. Printed in Great Britain.


R. H. Sibson

and dilatancy, and it is now clear that these are not the dominant processes leading
to the formation of mylonite series textures. In quartzo-feldspathic mylonites,
quartz grains have been reduced in grain size by the dynamic recovery and
recrystallization of highly strained grains which have undergone intense intracrystalline plastic deformation (Bell & Etheridge I973, White I973). It is also
apparent, as originally noted for the type mylonite (Lapworth I885, Teall I918),
that extensive recrystallization and neomineralization occurs in the groundmass
of most cohesive 'cataclastic' rocks.
Because changes in textural type tend to be gradational (P1. 3 a) and some fault
rocks retain mixed textures resulting from polyphase deformation under different
T A B L E I : Textural

classification of fault










>30% o f r o c k m a s s )

430% o f r o c k










(O.lcm frasso

< 0.Scm)

< 0 . I cm)















Loch 0bisary


~ E A V A L ' .

347m .



' . ' o ' . ' ' . ' ' , ' - ' , .


J . ~


r "

Crush zone
shear belt

~ .










Mylonitic { 30-60


foliatm ( 60_90o ..4" J



IX~eudofachylyte- uitraca~lasite
crush zone

F z o . I M a p and schematic cross-section of the Outer Hebrides Thrust in Eaval

block, N Uist.


R. H. Sibson
T A B L E 2 "Fault rocks and style of faulting in the Outer Hebrides Thrust zone
StTle of Faulting

Fault Rocks

Brittle shearing of intact rock~

Sliding on existing planes

Cataclastic crush zones

(& some pseudotachylyte)

Crush Melange

Crush breccias, microbreccias

& protocataclasite

Quasi-plastlc shear zones

Crush Melange with crude
mylonitic foliation

Phyllonltic mylonites &


crustal conditions (PI. 2), (Christie I96O) attempts to classify the textures of fault
rocks in a pigeon-hole manner that can never be entirely satisfactory. The scheme
outlined in Table I serves as a simple reference system, adequate for the following
discussion. It is based largely on that put forward by Spry (I969, p. 229), modified
to avoid genetic connotations, with some additional elements from Higgins' (i 97 I)
classification. The whole has been rearranged to emphasize a division which I
consider to be of great mechanical significance; the separation of those fault rocks
with an essentially random shape (and crystallographic) fabric from those that are
foliated, usually with a strongly inosculafing L-S shape fabric (fluxion structure).
Another main division is made on the presence or absence ofprirnary cohesion, the
cohesive fault rocks then being further subdivided on the nature of their matrix.
Cohesive rocks in which tectonic reduction in grain size has dominated processes
of grain growth form the bulk of the commonly recognized fault rocks formed at
other than near surface conditions (P1. I). The term phillonite is retained as a
useful descriptive name for hydrated, mica-rich mylordtes and ultramylonites
which have the silky appearance of phyllites.
(B) D I S T R I B U T I O N




Many major ancient fault zones are now exposed at erosion levels which correspond to considerable depths when the faults were active. They often consist of a
mesh of shear zones enclosing lozenge-shaped areas of comparatively undeformed
rock, the whole being perhaps a few kilometres or possibly tens of kilometres in
width. Variations in both the style and the rock products of faulting occur across
such zones when they have a large component of finite dip-slip. As an example we
consider a section across the Outer Hebrides Thrust, a major dislocation of probable late Caledonian age which borders the eastern coastline of the Outer Isles
in NW Scotland (Francis & Sibson 1973, Sibson 1975). This structure is especially
suitable for discussion, because it disrupts crystalline Lewisian basement gneisses
of fairly uniform bulk composition, and because fault rocks are generally best

J1 geol. Soc. Lond.


x33 , i977

. ~




Mylonite series (a--protomylonite, b--mylonite, c--ultramylonite) versus Cataclasite series (d--protocataclasite, e--cataclasite, f--ultracataclasite). All specimens
from the Outer Hebrides Thrust zone (crossed polars except c & f, 7)194

J1 geol. Soc. Lond.

I33 , 1977




Polyphase texture from Seaforth Head, Lewis (NB 305 158). (a) Vein material forming
breccia matrix and disrupting banded mylonite-ultramylonite, was probably randomfabric pseudotachylyte developed by seismic faulting within a ductile shear zone
(plane polars, 3.0). (b) Porphyroclasts within vein are now aligned in a strong
shape fabric as a result of continued ductile deformation (plane polars, x 15 . 75)-

J1 geol. Soc. Lond. i33 , i977




PLAIE 3" (a) Gradational change in texture. Amphibolite -+ protomlyonite -~mylonite --~ ultramylonite (Ness, Lewis NB 521664) (plane polars, 14.o ).
(b). Phyllonitic shear belt cutting crush m61ange, east coast ofN Uist (NF 922597).
Note marginal curve-in of schistosity and asymmetric chevron folds developed within
the belt.

Fault rocks and mechanisms


developed around thrusts as a result of their greater capacity for storing elastic
strain energy (Sibson 1974).
The section described (Fig. I) lies along the eastern coast of North Uist south
of Loch Eport, about midway along the thrust zone. West of the thrust base the
Lewisian complex consists largely of biotite-hornblende-quartzo-feldspathic banded gneisses with varying amounts of amphibolite. Large Laxfordian fold structures have imposed a general NW-SE structural grain which is cut by the thrust
(Coward et al. I97O). Within the thrust zone the parent assemblage is much the
same, but blocks of pyroxene granulite occur locally.
From west to east across the thrust zone there are progressive changes in the
style of faulting and the associated fault rocks (Fig. I and Table 2). West of the
thrust zone proper, pseudotachylyte has been generated by rapid transient sliding
on extremely brittle faults which developed in localized failure zones within the
gneiss complex (Sibson I975). These increase in number towards the thrust base
where disrupted pseudotachylyte veining is also found in crush zones, here ranging
up to 3 m in thickness, intensely microfractured and largely composed of cataclasite and ultracataclasite. East of the thrust base the style of faulting becomes more
ductile, and the crush zones give way to mylonitic shear belts up to 5 m in thickness, lying in a braided network more or less concordant with the thrust zone
envelope. This network penetrates a crush mdlange (crush breccias, microbreccias,
protocataclasite and locally protomylonite) of crushed acid gneiss with a varying
metabasite content. All of the rocks within this mdlange are to some extent
metamorphically downgraded, and within the shear belts almost total retrogression
to lower greenschist assemblages (e.g. quartz + albite + epidote + muscovite +
chlorite actinolite) has occurred and the rocks are phyllonites with strong L-S
tectonite fabrics (P1. 3b). Though the schistosity developed within these ductile
shear zones can be seen to intensify and curve in from the margins in thrust sense,
within the zones it is invariably folded into a series of asymmetric crenulations and
chevron folds with subhorizontal axial planes and a consistent down-dip vergence,
indicating that the main phase of thrusting was followed by some down-dip
While direct field evidence for the contemporaneity of brittle and ductile thrust
deformation is lacking, strong arguments can be made against one set of features
having preceded the other.

2. Rates of faulting and the energy budget of fault zones

The rate and manner of energy dissipation in fault zones must be key factors
affecting the genesis of the different varieties of fault rock. It is therefore apposite
to consider the range of slip- and strain-rates associated with tectonically active
(A) B I M O D A L


OF S L I P - R A T E S

Across currently active faults, shear displacements generally take place either by
intermittent seismic failure or by aseismic fault creep (Scholz et al. x969). In the


R. H. Sibson

Io,:j~ 9

-.-.. . . .


(W'n{2) 7


654321 -






-12 -11 -10

-a -8

-7 -s -s -4

-3 -2 -I

Power dissipated
per unit area of a
f a u l t s u r f a c e (Q.) v e r s u s slip r a t e ( v )

for various values of shear resistance

(*t) (see eqn. 2t). Stippled areas
represent the d o m i n a n t velocity
modes o f faulting.

( m . s -11

former case, transient slip-rates of perhaps IO-IOO cm s -z may be attained over

periods of at the most a few tens of seconds, at intervals of tens to thousands of
years (Brune 197o ). In the latter, observed slip-rates usually lie in the range
o. i - i o cm yr -1, which corresponds to the field of relative velocities between interacting lithospheric plates. In the upper crust aseismic fault creep may be quasicontinuous or episodic, and appears to be a metastable process which in some
circumstances can degenerate into seismic failure (Scholz et al. 1972). Both fast and
slow movements on faults generally occur as localized shear dislocations which do
not extend over the entire surface of existing geological faults.
One may therefore expect a dominantly bimodal frequency distribution of sliprates, though all intermediate gradations must occur (Fig. 2).

100 km

10 km
I km
100 m

tom -



lrn -


" ....

~ " " ~>"

i :.~i~!:.,


3 W i d t h of shear zone (w) versus

rate of shear straining (~) for aseismic

lOmm -lmm --14







-1 ({1) - 6



Fault rocks and mechanisms






Because rapid faulting involves loss of continuity across the fault, it is probably
not meaningful to talk of the strain-rates induced inside a fault zone by seismic
While the quasi-continuous slip ofaseismic fault creep may take place on discrete
planes at high crustal levels, movement at depth is probably accommodated within
a shear zone of finite width (w). If the rate of shear straining is assumed to be
constant throughout the zones, crude estimates of the likely range of values can
be obtained from the velocity field for aseismic creep using




where v is the slip velocity (Fig. 3). At depth fault creep may be taken up by steady
shear in planar zones only a few tens or hundreds of metres in width, corresponding
for example to the phyllonitic shear belts and cataclastic crush zones associated
with the Outer Hebrides Thrust. This would give rise to localized shear strainrates as high as lO -1 to lO -11 s -1. These estimates differ considerably from those
of Whitten (1956) who derived a strain-rate of 3 x IO-1~ s -~, often quoted as
geologically 'representative', from triangulation of a broad region around the
San Andreas Fault. His measurements probably reflect the rate of elastic shear
strain accumulation around locked portions of the fault.








L'z:::'"[ )'







F~G. 4 T h e energy budget of fault zones.


R. H. Sibson
(G) T H E



The energy budget of crustal fault zones is illustrated schematically in Fig. 4 for
the two dominant modes of faulting. Input of elastic strain energy is derived from
differential movements, usually as a direct result of lithospheric plate interaction.
For aseismic fault creep to be a truly steady-state process, input of energy must be
exactly balanced by its dissipation in the various sinks, so that the amount stored
around the zone remains constant. If a fault zone 'sticks', the store of energy
increases until some failure criterion is exceeded. Seismic slip may then occur by
Reid's (191o) mechanism of elastic rebound, with sudden partial release of the
stored energy.
In earthquake faulting, the proportion of energy radiated as seismic waves is
given by
E8 = n E


where E is the total energy released and ~ is the seismic efficiency. Some idea of the
radiation energy for an earthquake with surface-wave magnitude Ms can be
obtained from the empirical Gutenberg-Richter relationship,
logloE, = 1"5 M, + 11"8


Richter (I958), but estimates of the efficiency factor (and thus the total energy
release) for crustal earthquakes are notoriously uncertain. Most lie in the range
o. I-I o per cent (Pshennikov 1965, King 1969), though there have been suggestions
that ~ approaches unity for very large events (Brune 197o ). Apart from the wave
energy, possible sinks for energy dissipation are essentially the same for seismic as
for aseismic faulting.
Energy may be expended against or gained from gravity, depending whether
the centre of gravity for the displaced rock and fluid on both sides of the fault is
raised or lowered with respect to gravitational equipotentials. The amount involved will be minimal for strike-slip faulting. Proportionately the most energy
may be expended against gravity during reverse faulting which on a large scale
leads to crustal thickening, while energy is usually gained from gravity during
normal faulting. Pshennikov (1965) suggests that for large earthquakes, the work
done against gravity is rarely as great as the radiated energy. Thus, if the low
estimates for seismic efficiency are correct, much of the energy released during
earthquake faulting (perhaps 9 per cent or more) goes into rock deformation
within the fault zone.
Partitioning of dissipated energy between the various groups of rock deformation
processes can be expected to vary with slip-rate. The importance of the essentially
bimodal distribution is that seismic slip-rates may induce transient phenomena
such as rapid localized rises in temperature and/or fluid pressure (Sibson 1973,
I975) , which can be expected to leave textural imprints on the rock products of
fast faulting, rendering them distinguishable from the products of slow aseismic
movements. In this regard, the very fast dissipation of energy accompanying
seismic faulting must lead to rapid gains in local entropy, and intense disordering
of existing fabrics within fault zones. In contrast, the deformation required to

Fault rocks and mechanisms



yield point

. . . . . .

I "~me",g


dastic region.,

] AA A ~ ~ " ~ o w


-'-'-"- ]disp,l~.ent

~ weakeni,


Strainor displacement

FIG. 5"
Conditionfor localizationof major
fault zones.

accomodate aseismic fault creep takes place at strain-rates compatible with flow
by intracrystalline plasticity and mass diffusion in silicate rocks. A considerable
proportion of the dissipated energy may then be expended in these processes.

3- Localization of fault zones

Fault zones arise through the local concentration of deformation. This means that
with increasing displacement the shear resistance of the zone either maintains a
constant value less than that of the surrounding crust, or progressively decreases
as the zone undergoes strain or displacement weakening (Fig. 5). Such ideas are
consistent with plate tectonics theory, which suggests that deformation and seismic
activity is concentrated at lithospheric plate boundaries, not because they are
regions of comparatively high shear stress, but because they represent zones of
persistent weakness extending through the lithosphere (Sykes & Sbar 1973). Thus,
while it can be argued that cold, intact sialic crust can support differential stresses
of at least 1.5 kb (Jeffreys I959) , seismological and other estimates suggest that
within established fault zones, shear stress has at the most a value of a few hundred
bars (Ambraseys I969, Brune et al. 1969).
Processes of rock deformation within fault zones must therefore exhibit strain
or displacement weakening, and the rate at which this occurs at different crustal
levels must determine the ultimate width to which a fault zone evolves.

4. Crustal fault mechanisms and rock deformation

The processes of rock deformation which accompany faulting must change with
depth in the crust as a result of varying temperature (T), fluid pressure (PI) and
confining pressure (Pc), and will also be affected by the velocity mode of the
Deformation maps have been constructed for quartz by Rutter (I976) and
White (i976). Such maps attempt to define the temperature/stress/strain-rate[
grain-size fields over which various steady-state flow mechanisms are dominant,
but their application to polymineralic rock is as yet uncertain. However, a point
of great importance is that along the P~ T gradients of intermediate facies series
(Barrovian) metamorphism, it is not until lower greenschist-facies conditions are


R. H. Sibson

attained that penetrative crystallographic fabrics appear in quartzo-feldspathic

rocks (Spry I969, p. 5). From the presence and nature of such quartz c-axis fabrics
in rocks metamorphosed under medium- and high-grade conditions, one may infer
the dominance of thermally activated dislocation processes (Wilson 1973, i975,
White x976). Thus the isotherm defining the onset of greenschist-facies conditions,
estimated by Turner (1968 , p. 366) to lie in the range 25o-3ooC for P l o a d ----PH~o, probably marks the lower temperature boundary for extensive crystallographic fabric development in quartz.
On this basis, a broad division can be made in the fault mechanisms which can
accomodate shear in quartzo-feldspathic crust. At levels above the greenschist
transition, where rock particles behave in an almost elastic manner to failure, and
are not able to absorb large strains by crystal plasticity (or mass diffusion processes), deformation of rock masses is friction-dominated, so that the regime may be
deemed elastico-frictional (EF). Lower down, where a major rock constituent
(usually quartz) can readily deform by crystal plasticity, deformation behaviour
may be said to be quasi-plastic (QP).

(i) Brittle shearfailure of intact rock. It is now well established that the brittle strength
of intact materials is largely determined by stress concentrations around included
flaws (Griffith 1924, McClintock & Walsh I962), so that a rock mass can be treated
as 'intact' if the dimensions of flaws are small compared with the mass under load.
Because of the common presence of such features as bedding, foliation, minor
faults and joints, the extent to which the upper crust may be considered intact is
debatable, and for large-scale faulting this region may best be considered as a
blocky aggregate, 'glued' together by the friction across planar disconfinuties
(Birch I964).
Evidence from laboratory triaxial tests suggests that, to a first approximation,
the brittle shear failure of homogeneous intact rock following elastic straining is
adequately described by the Mohr-Coulomb criterion, modified to take account
of fluid pressure (Price I966, Mogi 1973). The criterion is
= C -b m ( a , -



where is the shear stress and an the normal stress on the eventual fault, C is the
long-term cohesive strength (typically a few hundred bars for crystalline rocks),
a n d / ~ is the coefficient of internal friction (generally 0. 5 < / ~ < i.o). It predicts
that shear fractures should develop in planes containing the intermediate principal
stress (a~) and lying at an acute angle to the maximum principal stress (~i) given
0i -- tan -1 (I[/xi)
In terms of the principal compressive stresses (al > a~ > as), the criterion may be
rewritten as
( a , - - a3) =

+ (K, - - 1 ) ( a 3 - ~o + (~r~ - 1 ) ( a 8 - P s )



Fault rocks and mechanisms


where ao is the uniaxial compressive strength of the rock,

K, -----

I + sin ~
i - - sin ~


tan -1 ~


and the angle of friction,


Equation 6 predicts a linear increase of differential stress at failure with increasing

confining pressure. It is found experimentally that this is accompanied by a decrease in the stress drop at failure to some value of residual frictional strength, and
an increase in ductility which in physical terms is represented by a widening of the
fault zone that develops (Griggs & Handin I96O). Ultimately, the brittle-ductile
transition is reached when frictional resistance becomes equal to the shear strength
of the rock, and cohesive cataclastic flow occurs throughout the specimen without
stress drop (Orowan 196o). At confining pressures which are less than those at the
brittle-ductile transition, the release of strain energy accompanying stress drop
ensures that shear failure of intact rock is a seismic process.
(ii) Sliding on existing planes. It is generally accepted that frictional sliding on existing planes plays an important role in fault zones down to depths at which the
frictional resistance to slip exceeds the ductile yield strength of the rock mass
(Orowan 196o ). Experimental work suggests that to a sufficient approximation,
the criterion for frictional failure down to depths of perhaps 2o km is adequately
described by Amonton's Law, modified to take account of fluid pressure (Dieterich
i974). For sliding to occur, the applied shear stress must equal the frictional
resistance (,f), given by
rf = t~(a, -- Ps)


where ~, the coefficient of static friction, typically has a value of about 0.75
(Byerlee 1968 ). Once static friction is overcome and slip begins, the kinetic shear
resistance is

where/z~ (usually < t~) is the kinetic coefficient of friction.
Two situations may arise; either stable sliding occurs at constant load (one
possible mechanism for aseismic fault creep), or transient slip takes place accompanied by a partial release of stress. In the latter case, the cycle may be repeated
when the stress again builds up to failure, giving rise to a 'stick-slip' oscillation
(Jaeger & Cook 1969, p. 64).
Stick-slip is now usually cited as the instability mechanism for shallow earthquakes (Brace & Byerlee 1966), and is favoured by comparatively low temperature
( < 3ooC, say), a high effective stress normal to the fault, the presence of 'brittle'
minerals such as quartz and feldspar, and a loading system of low stiffness (Byerlee
& Brace I968 , Stesky et al. I974).
(iii) Shear across a cataclastic crush zone. Crush zones may develop by the localized


R. H. Sibson

ductile yielding o f a rock mass through cataclastic flow, or by the progressive

accumulation of cataclastic detritus on a fault surface. In the latter case, the
transition between stable sliding on a plane and steady-state shear across a
crush zone is gradational, but can be said to occur when the crush or gouge zone
has widened to an extent that there is no longer interference between asperities
on opposing walls. Cataclastic shear-flow under constant or nearly constant load,
though a ductile process, is still controlled by friction and is highly sensitive to
effective normal stress. Treating an existing crush zone as a granular aggregate,
the failure criterion for cataclastic flow may still be approximated by a generalized
linear criterion of Mohr-Coulomb form (Eqn. 4), where cohesion, C, has a low
value probably increasing slightly with depth, and the frictional coefficient, ~, has
a value somewhat less than that for sliding between clean faces of similar material
(Engelder et al. 1975)A very important feature of the ~ield condition for friction-dependent cataclastic
flow, is that the yield stress is virtually independent of strain-rate, and hence of
time (Donath & Fruth t97x). The inherent long-term stability of cataclastic flow
is, however, open to question. The behaviour of a crush zone under shear may be
governed by a non-linear constitutive law, in which case shear is likely to be metastable (Stuart I974). Indeed, Byerlee & Brace (i969) have reported mechanical
instabilities leading to stick-slip behaviour in crushed aggregates under pressures
well above their brittle-ductile transition. Cataclastic flow is also accompanied
by dilatancy so that fluid pressure is likely to fluctuate considerably; il) has been
shown experimentally for a gouge-laden fault in sandstone that slight decreases in
effective normal stress can switch behaviour from stable cataclastic flow of the
gouge to stick-slip sliding at the gouge-sandstone contact (Engelder et al. t975).
By analogy, it is to be expected that, when natural aseismic shear across a crush
zone degenerates into seismic failure, slip will be concentrated on nearly planar
discontinuities as increasing strain-rates lead to more brittle behaviour. Riedel
shears have also been observed to develop in crushed aggregates deforming by
steady-state shear (Jaeger & Gay I974) , and bands of more intensely crushed
material occur in experimentally produced gouge zones (Engelder et al. I975).
(iv) Limiting condition f o r frictional failure. At a depth, z, in the crust the effective
vertical stress is usually given by
<cry> -- a, -- PI = pgz(I -- ~v)


where p is the mean crustal density, g is the acceleration due to gravity, and the
pore fluid factor


By assuming the vertical stress to coincide with one of the principal stresses,
Anderson (x95I) successfully explained the orientation of thrust (~v = o3),
wrench ( ~ ---- cr2) and normal ~ = ~a) faults using the Mohr-Coulomb criterion
(though any linear frictional criterion, with or without a term for cohesive
strength, gives similar results). In the E F rdgime, the limiting condition for frictional failure on existing faults may be expressed on the basis of Eqn. 9 as the

Fault rocks and mechanisms


minimum differential stress required to initiate slip at a given depth and fluid
pressure (Sibson 1974). Thus,


~,) >f



(q(R'-- i) + 1}

pgz(~ - ~)


where q -- o for thrust faults, o < q = k = {(as -- as)/(al -- as)} < I for wrench
faults, q -- I for normal faults, and


/Z 9" - - /z) - 2


These equations have profound implications for the relative development of fault
rocks in the three types of 'Andersonian' fault zone (see below).
(B) Q U A S I - P L A S T I C


Once a major mineral constituent of a rock mass can deform extensively by intracrystalline plasticity, perhaps aided by mass diffusion processes, planar deformation zones may evolve through localized yielding followed by heterogeneous simple
shear of the continuum.
(i) Quasi-plastic shear zones. Intracrystalline plasticity is a thermally activated process, rather insensitive to confining pressure (Edmond & Paterson 1972 ). The
condition for yield may therefore by approximated by the standard Von Mises
criterion (Mogi 1972). This has the physical interpretation that yield occurs when
the concentration of distortional strain energy,
E~ =

(~1 6G
- ~,)~

{1 - - k + k 2}


(where k is as defined for Eqn. 13 and G is the rigidity modulus) reaches some
value characteristic of the material for a given temperature (7") and strain rate
(~,); that is

Ea----f(~, T)


Once yield has occurred, steady-state flow of rocks by intracrystalline processes

may be expected to obey a relationship of the form
= A exp(--

E / R T ) (~1 -- ~3)"


where E is an activation enthalpy, and A, R and n are constants (Heard 1976 ).

From the concentration of ductile deformation within narrow shear zones, one may
infer that initial yielding is accompanied by marked strain-softening. Mead (I 925)
suggested that some cataclasis occurs at yield, the accompanying dilation drawing
water into the shear zone. The manner in which this may promote strain-softening
is discussed below.
With quartz first beginning to deform extensively under lower greenschist-facies
conditions, it is under these and higher grades of metamorphism that QP shear

R. H. Sibson


zones may develop in quartzo-feldspathic crust. Cataclastic processes may, however, persist to different depths for other mineral constituents. In mylonites derived
from a quartzo-feldspathic host under greenschist-facies conditions, feldspar
typically survives as ovoid porphyroclasts, highly resistant to deformation, while
quartz may flow into ribbons by extreme plastic straining. It is this marked contrast in mechanical behaviour between different mineral components that gives
rise to the characteristic inosculating textures of the mylonite series.
Ramsay & Graham (I97O) have described the development of L--S fabrics in
QP shear zones cutting isotropic country rocks. Schistosity lies anti-symmetric
across the zones, curving in and intensifying away from the margins where it first
appears at c. 135 to the shear direction, to lie sub-parallel to the walls in the central
high strain regions. Thus schistosity follows the planar X T trajectories of finite
strain, with a stretching lineation tracing out the X direction.
(ii) Transient seismic shearing. The deformation maps of Rutter (I 976) and White
(I976), and the work of Elliot (I 973) suggest that seismic rates of shear cannot be
accommodated by mass diffusion processes, and probably not by the dislocation
processes ofintracrystalline plasticity, even at the highest crustal temperatures. QP
shear zones may therefore be taken to have developed under the more or less
steady strain-rates of aseismic shear.
However, transient shear fractures may sometimes propagate downwards from
the EF regions of fault zones, and seismic instabilities may also occur within the
QP r4gime if frictional constraints are overcome, perhaps by creep runaway leading to shear melting (Orowan 1960, Griggs & Baker 1969), or through an increase
in fluid pressure.
Textures developed by transient shear fractures in Q.P shear zones are likely to
be largely random-fabric and of a cataclastic nature, though friction melting may
possibly occur. Such rapidly imprinted textures are unlikely to persist, because the
continuing processes of plastic crystal deformation, recrystallization and neomineralization within the shear zones will tend to obliterate them (P1. 2).
(C) R O L E



Of the mass diffusion processes, Nabarro-Herring creep probably plays a significant role only in very high temperature deformation (Elliot 1973). Grain boundary
diffusion with some sliding may assist dislocation processes and probably becomes
the dominant mechanism once grain size drops towards IO t~m, since at constant
stress the strain-rate for flow by grain-boundary diffusion is inversely proportional
to grain size raised to the third power (Rutter i976 ). The lower temperature
bound for grain-boundary diffusion (especially water assisted) is not well established, though pressure solution of quartz may sometimes occur even under
diagenetic conditions (Kerrich I974).
The question arises: to what extent can these processes occur in the EF regions
of fault zones, once significant reduction of grain size has occurred by cataclasis ?
This is important, because extensive pressure solution at high levels in fault zones
would favour steady-state aseismic shearing. The deformation maps for quartz
(Rutter 1976 ) and (White I976 ) suggest that while for grain diametres of IOO t~m


Fault rocks and mechanisms

FIG. 6.
Mechanical effect of fluid pressure fluctuations
within the EF r6gime.

O'3b O'3a




pressure solution may be inhibited by the comparatively high strain-rates associated with aseismic faulting, it may become important well above the E F - Q P
transition as grain size approaches IO ~m.






Water in fault zones can potentially bring about weakening in a variety of ways.
Firstly, as discussed above, the presence of water lowers the temperature at
which grain-boundary diffusion can cause significant deformation by inducing
pressure solution.
Secondly, there is accumulating evidence that water concentrations in quartz
and other silicates act as plasticizing agents, greatly reducing yield strength and
increasing ductility by a process known as hydrolytic weakening (Griggs 1967).
Thus the transition to intracrystalline plasticity in quartz above say 3ooC, is
dependent on the presence of sufficient water to promote hydrolytic weakening
(Jones 1975).
Thirdly, water together with other fluids may play a direct mechanical role in
accordance with the law o f effective stress put forward for rocks by Hubbert &
Rubey (1959). For the usual situation where the compressibility of the rock mass
is much greater than that of individual grains, the effective stress (in summation
notation) is


<o~j> = mj -- PS'3~j

where mj is the applied stress and 3~j is Kronecker's delta. Thus high fluid pressures
may be expected to offset the effects of increasing confining pressure with depth,
lowering intergranular frictional resistance and promoting EF behaviour. In particular, if fluid pressure inside a fault zone is greater than that outside, considerable
relative weakening of the zone may result. From equations 6 and 7, by taking
differentials, we obtain
A(al - - %) =

- - 2 sin ~
i -sin~



This may be applied to any linear frictional failure criterion with a slope, ~ =
t a n - i F in the Mohr diagram (Fig. 6). For a frictional coefficient, F = 0.75, the
expression becomes


~.) =




R . H . Sibson

Thus an increase in fluid pressure can cause a correspondingly greater decrease in

the differential stress required for further shear failure.
Further weakening may also occur by the formation of en echelon extension
fractures within a fault zone, if at some stage fluid pressures and the prevailing
stress field satisfy the conditions for hydraulic fracturing described by Secor
(i965) and Price & Hancock (I972).
Finally, there is evidence from both active and ancient fault zones suggesting
the presence of high fluid pressures at the time of faulting (e.g. Berry I973, Beach
& Fyfe i972 ).

5. Thermal effects of faulting

(A) S T E A D Y



Steady aseismic shearing across a crush or shear zone with shear resistance, rl,
gives rise to a constant heat flux per unit volume of the zone,

Q" -

r, . v



where v is the slip-rate and w is the width of the zone. T h e resulting temperature
rise both in the zone and its surroundings can be calculated using the standard
conduction equations for constant heat production in a strip of width, w, lying in
an infinite solid with the same thermal properties (Carslaw & Jaeger I959,
section 2.I I, p. 80). Fig. 7 shows the temperature distribution around a i o m wide
shear zone across which a displacement of I km has taken place at I-IO cm yr -1
against shear resistances of o . i - i . o kb. Points to be noted are:

For these slip-rates, rise in temperature occurs over a region much

broader t h a n the shear zone and is relatively insensitive to its width.
(2) At the centre of the shear zone, for a given displacement and slip-rate,
A T oc .rf .

(3) For a given displacement and shear resistance at the centre of the zone,

oc V'~..

(4) T h e steepness of the thermal gradient adjacent to the shear zone increases with slip-rate.
Tf - 1 kbar

100 bar






FIG. 7.


T e m p e r a t u r e distribution a r o u n d a
steady-state shear zone (thermal diffu-

1cm.w"1 ~








900 1000

sivity, ~-= o. 007 cm%-l).


Fault rocks and mechanisms

(B) T R A N S I E N T



From the preceding discussion, it follows that the very much greater rates of
frictional dissipation associated with seismic faulting (Fig. 2) may lead to large
transient increases in temperature on the fault plane. Indeed, from theoretical
analyses, several workers (Jeffreys 1942, Anderson 195 I, McKenzie & Brune 1972)
have suggested that friction melting with production of pseudotachylyte should
occur on seismically active faults at depths of more than a kilometre or so. If it does
occur, melting could lead to almost complete release of stress by lubrication of the
fault plane, and is therefore of considerable interest seismologically.
However, these analyses are founded on the assumption that frictional sliding
on faults occurs under dry conditions. Sibson (I973) showed that the general
scarcity of pseudotachylyte can be explained by an interaction between temperature rise and the intergranular fluid present in most established fault zones. If
constant volume conditions are maintained, temperature rise is limited to about
I ooC at depths down to I O km or so. Other factors affecting the production of
pseudotachylyte, particularly that associated with the Outer Hebrides Thrust, are
discussed by Sibson (I975).
C) R O C K D E F O R M A T I O N



Apart from the extreme process of friction melting under dry conditions, disaggregation of rock by grain-boundary and transgranular cracking may" arise from
the sudden imposition of steep thermal gradients adjacent to the fault. In part
this results from the unequal expansion of individual grains across which there is
a strong thermal gradient, but the effect will be enhanced by the presence of
different minerals, particularly those with considerable anisotropy of thermal
expansion. In a study of the thermal expansion of igneous rocks, Richter & Simmons (1974) pointed out that for a given rise in temperature, the number of cracks
produced increases markedly once the heating rate exceeds 3 IO-2C s-l- Crack
production is therefore likely to be very great during seismic slip, when heating
rates may approach io3C s -1 or more. Rapid heating may also promote overpressures within fluid inclusions, causing explosive decrepitation and grain shattering (Sibson 1975). All such processes of thermal fragmentation will tend to
disorder existing rock fabrics.
D) D I S T O R T I O N



A point of interest is the extent to which vertical displacement across a major fault
zone, such as that of the Outer Hebrides Thrust, can distort existing isotherms.
This structure has an outcrop width of at least 12 km in Lewis, and with an eastward sheet dip of 25 , its true thickness (w) must exceed 5 km. The thermal constant for a slab of this thickness (giving a rough estimate of the time needed to
conduct a significant amount of heat across it), is

t , ~ - - =

I'2 I o e y r



R. H. Sibson

when the thermal diffusivity, ~ = 0.007 cm~s -~. For likely time-averaged slip-rates
of I-IO cm yr -~, the reverse dip-slip across the Outer Hebrides Thrust (thought
to be in the range i o + 5 km) could have been accomplished in a time, t~, of
zo~-IO n years. If ts >> t,, horizontal thermal gradients across the fault zone would
remain low throughout the thrusting episode, whereas if tl < t, little heat would
be conducted across the zone and isotherms would be vertically displaced almost
as passive markers. For the Outer Hebrides Thrust, where t~ ~ re, one may infer
that during the thrusting episode there was a significant increase in temperature
and a progressive change in metamorphic environment passing horizontally from
the downthrown to the upthrown side of the fault, as evinced by the distribution of
fault rocks.

6. Conceptual model for a major fault zone

The preceding arguments lead to a two-layer model for a major fault zone. At
high crustal levels, E F behaviour produces mainly random-fabric fault rocks,
whereas at depth rocks of the mylonite series are generated by QP processes in
ductile shear zones (Fig. 8). In quartzo-feldspathic crust, the EF[QP transition
probably corresponds roughly with the 3ooC isotherm, marking the lower temperature boundary to greenschist-facies conditions. Thus, for 'normal' geothermal
gradients of ~o-3oC]km, the transition will lie in the interval lO-15 km. Reverse
dip-slip across the sheaf of dislocations making up such a fault zone would lead
to distortion of isotherms and the horizontal zonation of fault styles and rocks seen
in sections across the Outer Hebrides Thrust.
(A) R O C K



Within this rdgime, faulting at both seismic and aseismic rates will tend to produce
essentially random-fabric fault rocks by frictional processes. All sliding on planes



(pseudotachylyte if dry)


"~i~.. :~..%....

r a n d 0 m - fabric

" ':~;~' i : ~ : :"~'~,~.-:~,. ,

crush breccias,rocks '~;i~:ii!.~..~;~i~'.;~!~:~" .

of the cataclasite series,.: ',"i:i~i~.~...~.~;~.%1.'~!i~'~"...:
pseudotachylyte if dry "' :.i~!!i~;~!~!i~i:.i:!~;;.'~::;i: ~;:~;.~',

10-15 kmI

e. ed rocks of the mylonite =a'~,~,~.\.~,~
series& blastomylonites
'~~ ~ ~

FIO. 8. C o n c e p t u a l m o d e l of a m a j o r fault zone.

Fault rocks and mechanisms


in quartz-rich rocks leads to frictional wear by brittle shearing of asperities,

plucking of grains from sidewalls and ploughing of asperities into opposing walls.
Additionally, sliding at seismic rates may induce thermal fragmentation, and
pseudotachylyte may be generated by friction-melting under dry conditions at
depths of more than a ldlometre or so. Aseismic fault slip may take place by stable
sliding on planes and/or cataclastic shear flow, the latter probably becoming
dominant with increase in effective confining pressure. This last factor is probably
the most important in governing the rate of generation of cataclastic detritus for
a given rock type.
Formation of incohesive gouge and fault breccia is probably restricted to relatively near-surface conditions, and the most common products of the EF rdgime
will be rocks of the cataclasite series. Within crush zones, cataclastic detritus is
progressively comminuted by fracture and rotational attrition. As temperature
increases with depth, marie minerals with ready glide planes may be dragged out
and smeared along sliding surfaces (Stesky et al. I974) , while mortar texture may
arise from the marginal recrystallization of quartz grains that have undergone
slight plastic straining. Steady cataclastic flow within a crush zone may lead to
the formation of crude shape-fabrics by the alignment of elongate porphyroclasts.
If this elongation is crystallographically controlled, weak lattice preferred orientation may result. Such shape fabrics may be enhanced by pressure-solution processes once grain size is reduced.
(B) R O C K P R O D U C T S


Within the QP r6gime, the products of aseismic shearing will be rocks of the
mylonite series (and blastomylonites), and the sequence
protomylonite -+ mylonite -+ ultramylonite
may be observed passing from the margins to the interiors of ductile shear zones.
Inside such zones, random-fabric fault rocks (cataclasite series and even pseudotachylyte) may be generated by seismic faulting from time to time, but rarely
(Cl) F A C T O R S A F F E C T I N Q



In the Outer Hebrides Thrust zone, QP shear zones containing phyllonites penetrate essentially random-fabric crush m61ange. Bearing in mind the rather low
lateral thermal gradients induced by aseismic shearing (Fig. 7), it is apparent
that factors other than temperature affect the EF[QP transition which must cusp
sharply upwards in the vicinity of these shear zones. Probably the most important
of these is the availability of water to promote hydrolytic weakening in quartz.
The very considerable hydration that has gone on in these shear zones (the water
content of the phyllonites at circa 2 per cent by weight, is about twice that of the
surrounding rocks) bears watness to their role as conduits for syntectonic aqueous
flow. In regions deficient in water, the EF[QP transition may occur at greater
temperatures and depths.

R.H. Sibson




(k = [)






Depth to any
stress value





TAB L E 3 : Ratios of differential stress (al-a3) , distortional strain energy (Ed) and
depth to any particular stress
level around "Andersonian"
thrust, wrench and normal
faults (;~ ----o. 75).

As a consequence of the standard Von Mises criterion for yield (Eqn. I6), the

.EF/Q.P transition may be expected to occur at different levels for different types
of faulting. Estimates of the ratios of differential stress and concentrations of distortional strain energy required to initiate frictional sliding on thrust, wrench and
normal faults may be obtained from equations 13 and 15 (Table 3) (Sibson I974).
The much greater concentrations of strain energy around thrust faults suggest that
for a given thermal gradient, the EF/QP transition occurs at significantly higher
levels for these structures than for normal faults, with the transition for wrench
faults lying somewhere in between.








For the simple two-layer model described above, one may infer from equation 13
that shear resistance within the EF rdgime of the fault zone is essentially frictional
and, for a constant pore fluid factor, increases linearly down to the EF/QP transition. The rate of increase of frictional resistance with depth will be greatest for
thrusts and least for normal faults.
Two factors, considered in relation to the general flow law (Eqn. 17) expected
to operate in QP shear zones, suggest that resistance to steady aseisrnic shear
decreases below the transition. Firstly, at constant strain-rate, increase of temperature with depth must lead to a decrease in shear resistance. Secondly, there is
evidence that ductile shear zones widen with depth (Bak et al. 1975). As the timeaveraged rate of displacement across a major fault zone is likely to remain constant
throughout the lithosphere, the rate of shear straining must therefore decrease with
depth. Decreasing strain-rate augments the effect of increasing temperature,
ensuring that shear resistance decreases with depth after reaching a peak value in
the vicinity of the EF/QP transition (Fig. 8). The concept is supported by experimental evidence (Rutter I97~ ).
Clearly, the presence and amplitude of a peak shear-resistance must play key
roles in determining the gross behaviour of a fault system, as the concentration of
distortional strain energy is a function of the square of the differential stress (Eqn.
i5). That the peak value is likely to be greatest for thrusts and least for normal
faults (Table 3), is borne out by the global pattern of energy release from shallow
earthquakes (Sibson I974). Significantly, most of the seismic energy released
along the San Andreas Fault comes from the depth interval 5-IO km (Press &
Brace I966 ).

Fault rocks and mechanisms

21 I

7. Conclusions
(I) Variations occur in the style and rock products of faulting across the Outer
Hebrides Thrust and other ancient fault zones. These can be explained in
terms of a two-layer mechanical model in which a zone of elastico-frictional
(EF) behaviour generating mainly random-fabric fault rocks, initially overlies
a quasi-plastic (QP) r~gime where mylonite series rocks are developed in ductile shear zones.
(2) In some cases, fault rocks produced by transient seismic faulting can be
distinguished from those developed by steady aseismic shearing.
(3) The EF/QP transition can be recognized and mapped in the field more easily
than the brittle-ductile transition.
(4) Shear resistance within major fault zones reaches a peak value, which is
greatest for thrusts and least for normal faults, around the EF[QP transition.
For normal geothermal gradients and an adequate supply of water, this lies at
depths of Io-I 5 km in quartzo-feldspathic crust.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS.Much of the work leading to this paper was carried out during tenure of a
Royal Commission for the Exhibition of I8I 5 Overseas Scholarship, which is gratefully acknowledged. I thank Dr N. J. Price, Dr E. H. Rutter and Professor J. V. Watson for discussion and
critical reading of the manuscript.

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Received lO March 1976, revised typescript received 1 October I976.
Read at 'The mechanics and effects of faulting' Ordinary General Meeting, at
Burlington House on Io March 1976.
RICHARD H. SIBSON,Department of Geology, Royal School of Mines,,
Imperial College, London SW7 2BP.