Work optimization predicts accretionary faulting: An integration of physical and numerical experiments

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Jessica McBeck, Michele Lynn Cooke, Justin W. Herbert, Bertrand Maillot, Pauline Souloumiac


We employ work optimization to predict the geometry of frontal thrusts at two stages of an evolving physical accretion experiment. Faults that produce the largest gains in efficiency, or change in external work per new fault area, ΔWext/ΔA, are considered most likely to develop. The predicted thrust geometry matches within 1 mm of the observed position and within a few degrees of the observed fault dip, for both the first forethrust and backthrust when the observed forethrust is active. The positions of the second backthrust and forethrust that produce >90% of the maximum ΔWext/ΔA also overlap the observed thrusts. The work optimal fault dips are within a few degrees of the faults dips that maximize the average Coulomb stress. Slip gradients along the detachment produce local elevated shear stresses and high strain energy density regions that promote thrust initiation near the detachment. The mechanical efficiency (Wext) of the system decreases at each of the two simulated stages of faulting and resembles the evolution of experimental force. The higher ΔWext/ΔA due to the development of the first pair relative to the second pair indicates that the development of new thrusts may lead to diminishing efficiency gains as the wedge evolves. The numerical estimates of work consumed by fault propagation overlap the range calculated from experimental force data, and crustal faults. The integration of numerical and physical experiments provides a powerful approach that demonstrates the utility of work optimization to predict the development of faults.



Earth Sciences, Physical Sciences and Mathematics, Tectonics and Structure


Numerical Model, work optimization, accretion, analog experiment, fault development


Published: 2017-11-11 09:55


Academic Free License (AFL) 3.0

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