Solidified frictional melts, or pseudotachylytes, remain the only unambiguous indicator of seismic slip in the geological record. However, pseudotachylytes form at >5 km depth, and there are many rock types in which they do not form at all. We performed low- to high-velocity rock friction experiments designed to impose realistic coseismic slip pulses on calcite fault gouges, and report that localized dynamic recrystallization may be an easy-to-recognize microstructural indicator of seismic slip in shallow, otherwise brittle fault zones. Calcite gouges with starting grain size <250 μm were confined up to 26 MPa normal stress using a purpose-built sample holder. Slip velocities were between 0.01 and 3.4 m s–1, and total displacements between 1 and 4 m. At coseismic slip velocities ≥0.1 m s–1, the gouges were cut by reflective principal slip surfaces lined by polygonal grains <1 μm in size. The principal slip surfaces were flanked by <300 μm thick layers of dynamically recrystallized calcite (grain size 1–10 μm) containing well-defined shape- and crystallographic-preferred orientations. Dynamic recrystallization was accompanied by fault weakening and thermal decomposition of calcite to CO2 + CaO. The recrystallized calcite aggregates resemble those found along the principal slip surface of the Garam thrust, South Korea, exhumed from <5 km depth. We suggest that intense frictional heating along the experimental and natural principal slip surfaces resulted in localized dynamic recrystallization, a microstructure that may be diagnostic of seismic slip in the shallow crust.
- Received 3 May 2012.
- Revision received 10 July 2012.
- Accepted 15 July 2012.
- © Geological Society of America