Origin of pseudotachylites in slow creep experiments

Matej Pec, Holger Stünitz, Renée Heilbronner, Martyn Drury, Christian de Capitani

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59 Scopus citations


We conducted a series of experiments on granitoid cataclasites under mid-crustal conditions (Pc~500MPa, T=300°C) and slow displacement rates (10-8ms-1<d<10-7ms-1) i.e. within an order of magnitude of plate tectonic velocities. The samples reach high peak strength (1250<1375MPa) then weaken slightly (by ~40MPa) and continue to deform without any abrupt stress drops up to a γ of ~4. Microstructural observations show, that at peak strength nanocrystalline (mean grain size ~34nm, smallest crystalline particles ~8nm) to partly-amorphous material develops. Weakening occurs once this material is abundant enough to form through going anastomozing slip zones where the strain partitions. During higher strain deformation, deformation localizes further and 1 to 2 multiply connected layers of fragment loaded amorphous material develop. This material shares many similarities with naturally occurring pseudotachylites, however was formed at velocities up to 8 orders of magnitude slower than those calculated for earthquakes (~1ms-1). We conclude that the use of pseudotachylites as indicators for paleoseismic events should be reconsidered.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)299-310
Number of pages12
JournalEarth and Planetary Science Letters
StatePublished - 2012

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Funding by the Swiss National Foundation Grant no. 200020-129976 is thankfully acknowledged.


  • Brittle-plastic transition
  • Experimental rock deformation
  • Fault rocks
  • Microstructures
  • Pseudotachylite
  • Semi-brittle flow


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