Structure of large-displacement, strike-slip fault zones in the brittle continental crust Chapter uri icon


  • Characterizing the structure of fault zones is necessary to understand the mechanical, fluid flow and geophysical properties of the lithosphere. This paper provides a detailed characterization of two large-displacement, strike-slip fault zones of the San Andreas system in southern California, the Punchbowl and North Branch San Gabriel faults. The faults cut crystalline and well-lithified sedimentary rocks, and consist of broad zones of fractured and faulted rock (damage zone) containing one, or more, narrow, tabular zones of highly sheared rock (fault core). Subsidiary faults and fractures of the damage zone formed in response to stress cycling associated with slip. The fault core is composed of very fine-grained, altered fault-rocks that reflect high shear strain, extreme comminution, and enhanced fluid-rock reactions. The characteristic and relatively ordered structure of these large-displacement faults is consistent with progressive damage accumulation over the lifetime of the fault. Layers of ultracataclasite containing mesoscopic slip surfaces within fault cores record extreme localization of slip at the macroscopic and mesoscopic scale. Progressive accumulation of ultracataclasite from abrasive wear along a slip surface throughout faulting history can explain the particle size distribution, layered structure, and sharp boundaries of the ultracataclasite layer. The longevity and relative stability of the slip surface is evidenced by the accumulation of progressively younger ultracataclasite towards the slip surface. Although not a common feature, the incorporation of slivers of wall rock into the ultracataclasite layer document occasional branching of the slip surface within fault cores. The damage-zone and fault-core characterization may be used to describe the geophysical, mechanical, and fluid-flow properties of brittle fault zones in crystalline and well-lithified sedimentary rocks of the continental crust.

author list (cited authors)

  • Chester, F. M., Chester, J. S., Kirschner, D. L., Schulz, S. E., & Evans, J. P.

editor list (cited editors)

  • Karner, G. D., Taylor, B., Driscoll, N. W., & Kohlstedt, D. L.

Book Title

  • Rheology and Deformation of the Lithosphere at Continental Margins

publication date

  • January 2004