Quantifying the effect of pyroxene on deformation of peridotite in a natural shear zone

Lars N. Hansen, Jessica M. Warren

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61 Scopus citations


The influence of pyroxene on upper mantle viscosity remains unclear but may occur either through its difference in strength relative to olivine or through its effect on olivine microstructure. To determine the role of pyroxene in moderating peridotite viscosity, we analyzed microstructures in paired harzburgites and dunites from a natural shear zone exposed in the Josephine Peridotite. Olivine crystallographic textures evolve similarly in harzburgites and dunites with increasing strain, indicating the operation of similar deformation mechanisms in olivine. The mean olivine grain sizes are ~1.5 times larger in dunites than in harzburgites, whereas the mean olivine subgrain sizes are a factor of ~1.2 smaller in dunites than in harzburgites. The average stresses in olivine, estimated with a subgrain-size piezometer, are inversely correlated with pyroxene volume fraction and directly correlated with the mean olivine grain size. The calculated ratio of pyroxene viscosity to olivine viscosity for each harzburgite/dunite pair varies from 1.2 to 3.3. Notably, our data indicate that olivine viscosity is non-Newtonian with a finite grain-size sensitivity. We suggest that at the conditions of the shear zone, pyroxene is more viscous than olivine but that the increase in aggregate strength with larger pyroxene fractions is offset by correspondingly smaller olivine grain sizes. Thus, major rheological weakening associated with pyroxene content may only be possible if (1) temperatures are higher than those characterizing this shear zone, increasing the viscosity contrast between olivine and pyroxene or (2) stresses are high enough that grain-size reduction promotes a transition to a deformation mechanism with extreme grain-size sensitivity, such as diffusion creep.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2717-2738
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 1 2015
Externally publishedYes

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©2015. The Authors.


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