pure and applied geophysics

, Volume 124, Issue 1–2, pp 225–268 | Cite as

Fluid infiltration into fault zones: Chemical, isotopic, and mechanical effects

  • R. Kerrich


Fluid infiltration into fault zones and their deeper-level counterparts, brittle-ductile shear zones, is examined in diverse tectonic environments. In the 2.7 Ga Abitibi greenstone belt, major tectonic discontinuities, with lateral extents of hundreds of kilometres initiated as listric normal faults accommodating rift extension and acted as sites for komatiite extrusion and locally intense metasomatism. During reverse motion on the structures, accommodating shortening of the belt, these transcrustal faults were utilised as a conduit for the ascent of trondhjemitic magmas from the base of the crust and of alkaline magmas from the asthenosphere and for the discharge of thousands of cubic kilometres of hydrothermal fluids. Such fluids were characterised by δ18O=+6±2, δD=−50±20, δ13C=−4±4, and temperatures of 270 to 450°C, probably derived from devolatilisation of crustal rocks undergoing prograde metamorphism. Hydrothermal fluids were more radiogenic (87Sr/86Sr=0.7010 to 0.7040) and possessed higher μ than did contemporaneous mantle, komatiites or tholeiites, and thus carried a contribution from older sialic basement. A provinciality of87Sr/86Sr and δ13C is evident, signifying that fault plumbing sampled lower crust which was heterogeneous at the scale of tens of kilometres. Mineralised faults possess enrichments of large ion lithophile (LIL), LIL elements, including K, Rb, Ba, Cs, B, and CO2, and rare elements, such as Au, Ag, As, Sb, Se, Te, Bi, and W. Fluids were characterised by XCO2≈0.1, neutral to slightly acidic pH, low salinity ≤3 wt-%, K/Na=0.1, they carried minor CH4, CO, and N2, and they underwent transient effervescence of CO2 during decompression. Clastic sediments occupy graben developed at fault flexures. The40Ar/39Ar release spectra indicate that fault rocks experienced episodic disturbance on time scales of hundreds of millions of years.

At the Grenville front, translation was accommodated along two mylonite zones and an intervening boundary fault. The high-temperature (580°C) and low-temperature (430 to 490°C) mylonite zones, formed in the presence of deep-level crust-equilibrated fluids of metamorphic origin. Late brittle faults contain quartz veins precipitated from fluids with extemely negative δ18O (−14 per mil) at 200 to 300°C. The water may have been derived from downward penetration into fault zones of precipitation of low18O on a mountain range induced by continental collision, with uplift accommodated at deep levels by the mylonite zones coupled with rebound on the boundary faults.

Archean gneisses overlie Proterozoic sediments along thrust surfaces at Lagoa Real, Brazil; the gneisses are transected by brittle-ductile shear zones locally occupied by uranium deposits. Following deformation at 500 to 540°C, in the presence of metamorphic fluids and under conditions of low water-to-rock ratio, shear zones underwent local intense oxidation and desilication. All minerals undergo a shift of −10 per mil, indicating discharge of meteoric-water-recharged formation brines in the underlying Proterozoic sediments up through the Archean gneisses, during overthrusting; ≈1000 km3 of solutions passed through these structures. The shear zones and Proterozoic sediments are less radiogenic (87Sr/86Sr=0.720) than contemporaneous Archean gneisses (0.900), corroborating the transport of fluids and solutes through the structure from a large external reservoir.

Major crustal detachment faults of Tertiary age in the Picacho Cordilleran metamorphic core complex of Arizona show an upward transition from undeformed granitic basement through mylonitic to brecciated and hydrothermally altered counterparts. The highest tectonic levels are allochthonous, oxidatively altered Miocene volcanics. This transition is accompanied by an increase of 12 per mil in δ18O, from +7 to +19, and a 400°C decrease in temperature. Lower tectonic levels acted as aquifers for the expulsion of large volumes of higher-temperature reduced metamorphic fluids and/or evolved formation brines. The Miocene allochthon was influenced by a lower-temperature reservoir inducing oxidative potassic alteration; mixing occurred between cool downward-penetrating thermal waters and the hot, deeper aqueous reservoir.

In general, flow regimes in these fault and shear zones follow a sequence, from conditions of high temperature and pressure with locally derived fluids at low water-to-rock ratios, during initiation of the structures, to high fluxes of reduced formation or metamorphic fluids along conduits as the structures propagate and intersect hydrothermal reservoirs. Later in the tectonic evolution and at shallower crustal levels there was incursion of oxidising fluids from near-surface reservoirs into the faults. In general, magmatism, tectonics, and fluid motion are intimately related.

Key words

Fluid infiltration geochemical transport faults isotopes hydraulic fracturing 


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© Birkhäuser Verlag 1986

Authors and Affiliations

  • R. Kerrich
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of GeologyUniversity of Western OntarioLondonCanada

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