Transport processes at quartz–water interfaces: constraints from hydrothermal grooving experiments
Abstract. We performed hydrothermal annealing experiments on quartzite samples at temperatures of 392 to 568 °C and fluid pressures of 63 to 399 MPa for up to 120 h, during which hydrothermal grooves developed on the free surfaces of the samples. An analysis of surface topology and groove characteristics with an atomic force microscope revealed a range of surface features associated with the simultaneous and successive operation of several processes partly depending on crystal orientation during the various stages of an experiment. Initially, dissolution at the quartzite-sample surface occurs to saturate the fluid in the capsule with SiO2. Subsequently, grooving controlled by diffusion processes takes place parallel to dissolution and precipitation due to local differences in solubility. Finally, quench products develop on grain surfaces during the termination of experiments. The average groove-root angle amounts to about 160°, varying systematically with misorientation between neighboring grains and depending slightly on temperature and run duration. The grooving is thermally activated, i.e., groove depth ranging from 5 nm to several micrometers for the entire suite of experiments generally increases with temperature and/or run time. We use Mullins' classical theories to constrain kinetic parameters for the transport processes controlling the grooving. In the light of previous measurements of various diffusion coefficients in the system SiO2–H2O, interface diffusion of Si is identified as the most plausible rate-controlling process. Grooving could potentially proceed faster by diffusion through the liquid if the fluid were not convecting in the capsule. Characteristic times of healing of microfractures in hydrous environments constrained from these kinetic parameters are consistent with the order of magnitude of timescales over which postseismic healing occurs in situ according to geophysical surveys and recurrence intervals of earthquakes.