Research ArticleGEOLOGY

Hydrous oceanic crust hosts megathrust creep at low shear stresses

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Science Advances  27 May 2020:
Vol. 6, no. 22, eaba1529
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aba1529


The rheology of the metamorphosed oceanic crust may be a critical control on megathrust strength and deformation style. However, little is known about the strength and deformation style of metamorphosed basalt. Exhumed megathrust shear zones exposed on Kyushu, SW Japan, contain hydrous metabasalts deformed at temperatures between ~300° and ~500°C, spanning the inferred temperature-controlled seismic-aseismic transition. Field and microstructural observations of these shear zones, combined with quartz grain-size piezometry, indicate that metabasalts creep at shear stresses <100 MPa at ~370°C and at shear stresses <30 MPa at ~500°C. These values are much lower than those suggested by viscous flow laws for basalt. The implication is that relatively weak, hydrous, metamorphosed oceanic crust can creep at low viscosities over a wide shear zone and have a critical influence on plate interface strength and deformation style around the seismic-aseismic transition.

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