Deformation mechanisms and evolution of the microstructure of gouge in the Main Fault in Opalinus Clay in the Mont Terri rock laboratory (CH)
Abstract. We studied gouge from an upper-crustal, low-offset reverse fault in slightly overconsolidated claystone in the Mont Terri rock laboratory (Switzerland). The laboratory is designed to evaluate the suitability of the Opalinus Clay formation (OPA) to host a repository for radioactive waste.
The gouge occurs in thin bands and lenses in the fault zone; it is darker in color and less fissile than the surrounding rock. It shows a matrix-based, P-foliated microfabric bordered and truncated by micrometer-thin shear zones consisting of aligned clay grains, as shown with broad-ion-beam scanning electron microscopy (BIB-SEM) and optical microscopy. Selected area electron diffraction based on transmission electron microscopy (TEM) shows evidence for randomly oriented nanometer-sized clay particles in the gouge matrix, surrounding larger elongated phyllosilicates with a strict P foliation. For the first time for the OPA, we report the occurrence of amorphous SiO2 grains within the gouge. Gouge has lower SEM-visible porosity and almost no calcite grains compared to the undeformed OPA.
We present two hypotheses to explain the origin of gouge in the Main Fault: (i)
authigenic generation consisting of fluid-mediated removal of calcite from the deforming OPA during shearing and (ii)
clay smear consisting of mechanical smearing of calcite-poor (yet to be identified) source layers into the fault zone. Based on our data we prefer the first or a combination of both, but more work is needed to resolve this.
Microstructures indicate a range of deformation mechanisms including solution–precipitation processes and a gouge that is weaker than the OPA because of the lower fraction of hard grains. For gouge, we infer a more rate-dependent frictional rheology than suggested from laboratory experiments on the undeformed OPA.