Segments of the modern San Andreas fault experience creep behavior, which is attributed to various factors, including (1) low values of effective normal stress, (2) elevated pore-fluid pressure, and (3) low frictional strength. The San Andreas Fault Observatory at Depth (SAFOD) drill hole in Parkfield, California, provides new insights into frictional properties by recognizing the importance of smectitic clay minerals, as demonstrated by analysis of mudrock and fault gouge samples from zones between 3186 and 3199 m and 3295 and 3313 m measured depths. X-ray diffraction (XRD) results show illite, chlorite, and mixed-layered illite-smectite and chlorite-smectite minerals in the faulted mudrock, whereas serpentine, Mg-rich smectite, and chlorite-smectite minerals are concentrated in the southwest deformation zone and the central deformation zone of the two actively creeping sections in the San Andreas fault. These rocks are abundantly coated by shiny clay mineral layers in some cases, reflecting mineral formation during creep. Secondary- and transmission-electron microscopy (SEM/TEM) and XRD studies of these slip surface coatings reveal thin films of neoformed chlorite-smectite phases, similar to previously described illite-smectite microscale precipitations. The abundance of chlorite-smectite minerals within fault rock of the SAFOD borehole significantly extends the potential role of mineralogic processes to depths up to 10 km, with cataclasis and fluid infiltration creating nucleation sites for neomineralization on displacement surfaces. We propose that localization of illitic to chloritic smectite clay minerals on slip surfaces from near the surface to the brittle-ductile transition promotes creep behavior of faults.
- Received 6 June 2011.
- Revision received 19 December 2011.
- Accepted 22 December 2011.
- © 2012 Geological Society of America