The role of mechanical stratigraphy on the refraction of strike-slip faults

Carlini, Mirko; Viola, Giulio; Mattila, Jussi; Castellucci, Luca

Fault and fracture planes (FFPs) affecting multilayer sequences can be significantly refracted at layer–layer interfaces due to the different mechanical properties of the contiguous layers, such as shear strength, friction coefficient and grain size. Detailed studies of different but coexisting and broadly coeval failure modes (tensile, hybrid and shear) within multilayers deformed in extensional settings have led to infer relatively low confinement and differential stress as the boundary stress conditions at which FFP refraction occurs. Although indeed widely recognized and studied in extensional settings, the details of FFP nucleation, propagation and refraction through multilayers remain not completely understood, partly because of the common lack of geological structures documenting the incipient and intermediate stages of deformation. Here, we present a study on strongly refracted strike-slip FFPs within the mechanically layered turbidites of the Marnoso Arenacea Formation (MAF) of the Italian northern Apennines. The MAF is characterized by the alternation of sandstone (strong) and carbonate mudstone (weak) layers. The studied refracted FFPs formed at the front of the regional-scale NE-verging Palazzuolo anticline and post-date almost any other observed structure except for a set of late extensional faults. The studied faults document coexisting shear and hybrid (tensile–shear) failure modes and, at odds with existing models, we suggest that they initially nucleated as shear fractures (mode III) within the weak layers and, only at a later stage, propagated as dilatant fractures (modes I–II) within the strong layers. The tensile fractures within the strong layers invariably contain blocky calcite infills, which are, on the other hand, almost completely absent along the shear fracture planes deforming the weak layers. Paleostress analysis suggests that the refracted FFPs formed in a NNE–SSW compressional stress field and excludes the possibility that their present geometric attitude results from the rotation through time of faults with an initial different orientation. The relative slip and dilation potential of the observed structures was derived by slip and dilation tendency analysis. Mesoscopic analysis of preserved structures from the incipient and intermediate stages of development and evolution of the refracted FFPs allowed us to propose an evolutionary scheme wherein (a) nucleation of refracted FFPs occurs within weak layers; (b) refraction is primarily controlled by grain size and clay mineral content and variations thereof at layer–layer interfaces but also within individual layers; (c) propagation within strong layers occurs primarily by fluid-assisted development ahead of the FFP tip of a “process zone” defined by a network of hybrid and tensile fractures; (d) the process zone causes the progressive weakening and fragmentation of the affected rock volume to eventually allow the FFPs to propagate through the strong layers; (e) enhanced suitable conditions for the development of tensile and hybrid fractures can be also achieved thanks to the important role played by pressured fluids.



Carlini, Mirko / Viola, Giulio / Mattila, Jussi / et al: The role of mechanical stratigraphy on the refraction of strike-slip faults. 2019. Copernicus Publications.


Rechteinhaber: Mirko Carlini et al.

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