Deformation mechanisms in mafic amphibolites and granulites: record from the Semail metamorphic sole during subduction infancy

Soret, Mathieu; Agard, Philippe; Ildefonse, Benoît; Dubacq, Benoît; Prigent, Cécile; Rosenberg, Claudio

This study sheds light on the deformation mechanisms of subducted mafic rocks metamorphosed at amphibolite and granulite facies conditions and on their importance for strain accommodation and localization at the top of the slab during subduction infancy. These rocks, namely metamorphic soles, are oceanic slivers stripped from the downgoing slab and accreted below the upper plate mantle wedge during the first million years of intraoceanic subduction, when the subduction interface is still warm. Their formation and intense deformation (i.e., shear strain ≥5) attest to a systematic and transient coupling between the plates over a restricted time span of ∼1 Myr and specific rheological conditions. Combining microstructural analyses with mineral chemistry constrains grain-scale deformation mechanisms and the rheology of amphibole and amphibolites along the plate interface during early subduction dynamics, as well as the interplay between brittle and ductile deformation, water activity, mineral change, grain size reduction and phase mixing.

Results indicate that increasing pressure and temperature conditions and slab dehydration (from amphibolite to granulite facies) lead to the nucleation of mechanically strong phases (garnet, clinopyroxene and amphibole) and rock hardening. Peak conditions (850 C and 1 GPa) coincide with a pervasive stage of brittle deformation which enables strain localization in the top of the mafic slab, and therefore possibly the unit detachment from the slab. In contrast, during early exhumation and cooling (from ∼850 down to ∼700C and 0.7 GPa), the garnet–clinopyroxene-bearing amphibolite experiences extensive retrogression (and fluid ingression) and significant strain weakening essentially accommodated in the dissolution–precipitation creep regime including heterogeneous nucleation of fine-grained materials and the activation of grain boundary sliding processes. This deformation mechanism is closely assisted with continuous fluid-driven fracturing throughout the exhumed amphibolite, which contributes to fluid channelization within the amphibolites. These mechanical transitions, coeval with detachment and early exhumation of the high-temperature (HT) metamorphic soles, therefore controlled the viscosity contrast and mechanical coupling across the plate interface during subduction infancy, between the top of the slab and the overlying peridotites. Our findings may thus apply to other geodynamic environments where similar temperatures, lithologies, fluid circulation and mechanical coupling between mafic rocks and peridotites prevail, such as in mature warm subduction zones (e.g., Nankai, Cascadia), in lower continental crust shear zones and oceanic detachments.

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Soret, Mathieu / Agard, Philippe / Ildefonse, Benoît / et al: Deformation mechanisms in mafic amphibolites and granulites: record from the Semail metamorphic sole during subduction infancy. 2019. Copernicus Publications.

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