Coseismic graphitization

2017-09-04 16:18:41


One moderate- to large-magnitude earthquake (M > 6) nucleates in Earth’s crust every three days on average, but the geological record of ancient fault slip at meters-per-second seismic velocities (as opposed to subseismic slow-slip creep) remains debated because of the lack of established fault-zone evidence of seismic slip. Here we show that the irreversible temperature-dependent transformation of carbonaceous material (CM, a constituent of many fault gouges) into graphite is a reliable tracer of seismic fault slip. We sheared CM-bearing fault rocks in the laboratory at just above subseismic and at seismic velocities under both water-rich and water-deficient conditions and modeled the temperature evolution with slip. By means of micro-Raman spectroscopy and focused-ion beam transmission electron microscopy, we detected graphite grains similar to those found in the principal slip zone of the A.D. 2008 Wenchuan (Mw 7.9) earthquake (southeast Tibet) only in experiments conducted at seismic velocities. The experimental evidence presented here suggests that high-temperature pulses associated with seismic slip induce graphitization of CM. Importantly, the occurrence of graphitized fault-zone CM may allow us to ascertain the seismogenic potential of faults in areas worldwide with incomplete historical earthquake catalogues.

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