Quasi-adiabatic shear zones in the lithosphere: Numerical and experimental approaches

K. Regenauer-Lieb, J. P. Petit, D. Yuen

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7 Scopus citations


Continental breakup, or compressive lithosphere scale faulting, requires a physical mechanism for wholesale faulting of the lithosphere. We compared numerical and experimental models for the nucleation of quasi-adiabatic shear bands in polyvinylchloride (PVC) with those in an idealized viscoelastoplastic mantle with olivine rheology. In both materials fault nucleation is caused by elastic stress concentration on pre-existing imperfections, with localized yielding confined to its vicinity. Faulting occurs rapidly after the initial elastic energy in the system is charged sufficiently to cause wholesale yielding. Propagation of the fault, monitored by looking at the dissipation of plastic energy, reveals migration of a sharp, thermal-mechanical "crack"-like instability, which appears in the temperature field as a slightly diffused signal. The initial temperature rise in the crack is subtle but increases suddenly when the plate is severed. This autocatalytic behavior has also been described in ductile polymers, which can be used as mechanical analogues. We suggest that elastoplastic coupling in quasi-adiabatic shear banding is a key for fast (< 1 Ma) nucleation of shear zones. These nonlinear phenomena will be illustrated for both experimental and numerical results by nine movies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)XI
JournalElectronic Geosciences
StatePublished - Jan 1 1999


  • Experimental and numerical modeling
  • Fault nucleation
  • Plasticity theory
  • Thermal coupling
  • Visualization


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