Fracture and Weakening of Jammed Subduction Shear Zones, Leading to the Generation of Slow Slip Events

Adam Beall, Åke Fagereng, Susan Ellis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

22 Citations (Scopus)


Geodetic data have revealed that parts of subduction interfaces creep steadily or transiently. Transient slow slip events (SSEs) are typically interpreted as aseismic frictional sliding. However, SSEs may also occur via mixed viscobrittle deformation, as observed in shear zones containing mixtures (mélange) of strong fractured clasts embedded in a weak viscobrittle matrix. We test the hypothesis that creep in a subduction mélange occurs through distributed matrix deformation, where flow is intermittently impeded by load-bearing clast networks (jamming). Our numerical models demonstrate that bulk mélange rheology can be dominated by the strong clasts in the absence of fracturing, while at high driving stresses or low frictional strength, clast fracturing redistributes deformation into the matrix, leading to high bulk strain rates. Because mélange stress is heterogeneous, fracturing of clasts occurs throughout jammed mélange when the driving stresses are only ∼20% of the clast yield strength. The effective rheology of jammed mélange can be characterized by a logarithmic dependence of stress on strain rate, which is used to explore strain rate transients caused by temporal variation in clast friction. Clasts must weaken significantly (∼75%) in order to increase strain rate by 8 times. Spring-block slider models with a more idealized viscobrittle rheology also demonstrate that strain rate transients can be generated when rate-and-state friction is incorporated. We outline a model where high bulk strain rates are generated when pervasive fracturing occurs, but further slip is limited by viscous processes. Incorporating such viscous damping into models may widen the conditions under which SSEs can occur while preventing development of seismic slip.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4869-4884
Number of pages16
JournalGeochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • melange
  • numerical modeling
  • shear zones
  • slow slip
  • subduction zones

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