Permeability evolution in quartz fault gouges under hydrothermal conditions

Silvio B. Giger*, Eric Tenthorey, Stephen F. Cox, John D. Fitz Gerald

*Corresponding author for this work

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    57 Citations (Scopus)


    The permeability (k) of fine-grained quartz aggregates were measured in situ during hot pressing (HPing) experiments to explore the evolution of fluid transport properties of fault zones during the interseismic period. Experiments were conducted at temperatures of 150°C and between 700 and 850°C, with confining and pore water pressures of 250 and 150 MPa, respectively. Significant permeability reduction was observed between 700 and 850°C, with permeability reduction rates (r = (1/t) In (kto/kt)), ranging from approximately 6 × 10-5 s-1 at 700°C to a maximum of approximately 7.4 × 10-4 s-1 at 850°C, Permeability decreased exponentially with time, and the permeability reduction rate increased with increasing temperature, increasing differential stress, and decreasing grain size. Analysis of the permeability-porosity relationships indicates that permeability in the simulated gouge at high temperature shuts off at a critical porosity of 0.045 ± 0.004. The presence of microstructures, such as grain interpenetration, grain shape truncation, arrays of fluid inclusions, and development of quartz overgrowths on grains, indicate that k reduction was controlled by dissolution-precipitation creep processes. Extrapolation of the permeability reduction rates, measured in this study, to temperatures typical of the continental seismogenic regime highlights the strongly time-dependent nature of permeability in natural fault wear products at depths of nucleation of major earthquakes. Within the recurrence time of large earthquakes, quartz-rich fault zones in the fluid-active midcrustal to lower continental crustal regimes can evolve from high-permeability conduits to low-permeability seals. Episodic changes in the fluid transport properties of faults during the interseismic period are likely to impact on the pore pressure evolution of fault wear products.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article numberB07202
    JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth
    Issue number7
    Publication statusPublished - 4 Jul 2007


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