Hematite frictional behavior and He loss from comminution during deformation experiments at slow slip rates

Alexandra A. DiMonte, Alexis K. Ault, Greg Hirth, & Cameron Meyers

Published February 29, 2024, SCEC Contribution #13410

Deformation experiments on hematite characterize its slip‐rate dependent frictional properties and deformation mechanisms. These data inform interpretations of slip behavior from exhumed hematite‐coated faults and present‐day deformation at depth. We used a rotary‐shear apparatus to conduct single‐velocity and velocity‐step experiments on polycrystalline specular hematite rock (∼17 μm average plate thickness) at slip rates of 0.85 μm/s to 320 mm/s, displacements of primarily 1–3 cm and up to 45 cm, and normal stresses of 5 and 8.5 MPa. The average coefficient of friction is 0.70; velocity‐step experiments indicate velocity strengthening to velocity‐neutral behavior at rates <1 mm/s. Scanning electron microscopy showed experimentally generated faults develop in a semi‐continuous, thin layer of red hematite gouge. Angular gouge particles have an average diameter of ∼0.7 μm, and grain size reduction during slip yields a factor of 10–100 increase in surface area. Hematite is amenable to (U‐Th)/He thermochronometry, which can quantify fault‐related thermal and mechanical processes. Comparison of hematite (U‐Th)/He dates from the undeformed material and experimentally produced gouge indicates He loss occurs during comminution at slow deformation rates without an associated temperature rise required for diffusive loss. Our results imply that, in natural fault rocks, deformation localizes within coarse-grained hematite by stable sliding, and that hematite (U‐Th)/He dates acquired from ultracataclasite or highly comminuted gouge reflect minor He loss unrelated to thermal processes. Consequently, the magnitude of temperature rise and associated thermal resetting in hematite‐bearing fault rocks based on (U‐Th)/He thermochronometry may be overestimated if only diffusive loss of He is considered.

DiMonte, A. A., Ault, A. K., Hirth, G., & Meyers, C. (2024). Hematite frictional behavior and He loss from comminution during deformation experiments at slow slip rates. Journal of Geophysical Research Solid Earth, 129, e2023JB027514. doi: 10.1029/2023JB027514.

Related Projects & Working Groups
Fault and Rupture Mechanics