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Shear-driven formation of olivine veins by dehydration of ductile serpentinite: a numerical study with implications for porosity production and transient weakening
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  • Stefan Markus Schmalholz,
  • Evangelos Moulas,
  • Ludovic Räss,
  • Othmar Müntener
Stefan Markus Schmalholz
University of Lausanne

Corresponding Author:stefan.schmalholz@unil.ch

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Evangelos Moulas
Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz
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Ludovic Räss
ETH Zurich
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Othmar Müntener
University of Lausanne
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Serpentinite subduction and associated dehydration vein formation are important for subduction zone dynamics and water cycling. Field observations suggest that en échelon olivine veins in serpentinite mylonites formed by dehydration during simultaneous shearing of serpentinite. Here, we test a hypothesis of shear-driven formation of dehydration veins with a two-dimensional hydro-mechanical-chemical numerical model. We consider the reaction antigorite + brucite = forsterite + water. Shearing is viscous and the shear viscosity decreases with increasing porosity. Total and fluid pressures are initially homogeneous and in the serpentinite stability field. Initial perturbations in porosity, and hence viscosity, cause fluid pressure perturbations during simple shearing. Dehydration nucleates where fluid pressure decreases locally below the thermodynamic pressure defining the reaction boundary. During shearing, dehydration veins grow in direction parallel to the maximum principal stress and serpentinite transforms into olivine inside the veins. Simulations show that the relation between compaction length and porosity as well as the ambient pressure have a strong impact on vein formation, while the orientation of the initial porosity perturbation and a pressure-insensitive yield stress have a minor impact. Porosity production associated with dehydration is controlled by three mechanisms: solid volumetric deformation, solid density variation and reactive mass transfer. Vein formation is self-limiting and slows down due to fluid flow decreasing fluid pressure gradients. We discuss applications to natural olivine veins as well as implications for slow slip and tremor, transient weakening, anisotropy generation and the formation of shear-driven high-porosity bands in the absence of a dehydration reaction.
27 Apr 2023Submitted to ESS Open Archive
27 Apr 2023Published in ESS Open Archive