Deformation processes and weakening mechanisms within the frictional viscous transition zone of major crustal-scale faults: insights from the Great Glen Fault Zone, Scotland
The Great Glen Fault Zone (GGFZ), Scotland, is a typical example of a crustal-scale, reactivated strike-slip fault within the continental crust. Analysis of intensely strained fault rocks from the core of the GGFZ near Fort William provides a unique insight into the nature of deformation associated with the main phase of (sinistral) movements along the fault zone. In this region, an exhumed sequence of complex mid-crustal deformation textures that developed in the region of the frictional-viscous transition (ca. 8-15 km depth) is preserved. Fault rock fabrics vary from mylonitic in quartzites to cataclastic in micaceous shear zones and feldspathic psammites. Protolith mineralogy exerted a strong control on the initial textural development and distribution of the fault rocks. At lower strains, crystal-plastic deformation occurred in quartz-dominated lithologies to produce mylonites simultaneously with widespread fracturing and cataclasis in feldspar- and mica-dominated rocks. At higher strains, shearing appears to increasingly localise into interconnected networks of cataclastic shear zones, many of which are strongly foliated. Textures indicative of fluid-assisted diffusive mass transfer mechanisms are widespread in such regions and suggest that a hydrous fluid-assisted, grainsize-controlled switch in deformation behaviour followed the brittle comminution of grains. The fault zone textural evolution implies that a strain-induced, fluid-assisted shallowing and narrowing of the frictional-viscous transition occurred with increasing strain. It is proposed that this led to an overall weakening of the fault zone and that equivalent processes may occur along many other long-lived, crustal-scale dislocations.