Quantitative determination of the ambient temperatures at which rocks deform under different tectonic settings in the earth's crust is of critical importance for constraining thermo-mechanical modeling of the earth's tectonic plates, and their mechanical and thermal evolution. Ambient deformation temperatures control the physical processes that govern deformation and the rates at which deformation occurs. Pressure-Temperature-time (PTt) histories of rocks can be obtained from the compositions of minerals and mineral assemblages, through reaction equilibrium relations, but these determinations bear on the PT conditions of the mineral reactions, not necessarily those of deformation. Development of thermometers that directly constrain conditions of deformation is important because temperatures indicated by deformation features and those indicated by equilibrium mineral assemblages may differ, recording different intervals of a rock's PTt history. In quartz-rich continental crust, two types of deformation thermometers (based on quartz recrystallization processes and crystallographic fabrics) have been used as analytical tools over the last two decades in a wide range of tectonic studies, assuming that temperature is the primary controlling factor in recrystallization regime and fabric development. However, recrystallization regimes and fabric development may also be influenced by trace levels of water, and the effects of water on deformation mechanisms and fabric development may be of comparable importance to temperature. We propose to test, refine, and validate the deformation thermometers for quartz-bearing rocks and to examine those conditions under which water contents or variations in deformation rate need to be evaluated. We have chosen Himalayan and NW Scotland field areas as case studies because one of us has already collected extensive suites of appropriate oriented quartz-rich tectonites from these areas under prior NSF funding. These samples have been deformed under a wide range of tectonic settings and deformation thermometry, together with more restricted compositionally based thermometry, have already been completed on many of these samples. Deformation temperatures indicated by recrystallization regime and crystallographic fabrics in individual samples will be independently compared/tested by titanium-in-quartz thermometry, while the potential influence of water on recrystallization and crystallographic fabrics will be investigated by infrared spectroscopy and transmission electron microscopy.

Integration of theoretical concepts and analytical techniques developed in Geosciences and Materials Science over the last half century has led to major advances in our understanding of both the mechanisms by which rocks deform/flow and the influence of environmental factors such as temperature on flow in the earth's crust. However the most commonly applied analytical techniques for determining the temperatures at which rocks now exposed at the earth's surface have been deformed are known to also be sensitive to fluctuations in chemically-induced weakening that may have occurred during deformation in the mineral grains making up the rock. Thus, deformation temperatures calculated using these thermometers may be in error, and thermomechanical numerical models developed to simulate flow in the crust using such temperature data may give unrealistic results. This project is designed to test the validity of these thermometers using a recently developed thermometer that takes such chemical processes in to account. Rock samples collected under previous NSF funding from ancient mountain belts in the Himalaya and Scotland have been chosen as case studies, and the potential role of chemical weakening in these samples will also be evaluated using complementary analytical techniques. These studies have important applications to plate tectonics and the results may change our understanding of the mechanical and thermal character of plates. Plate thickness and strength were originally considered to be due solely to temperature and the geothermal gradient in the earth. Our study addresses this concept and tests whether the internal strength of plates may also be influenced by water content, in addition to temperature. The project is a collaborative effort between researchers at Virginia Tech, Texas A&M University and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. In addition to the scientific goals of the project, this research is contributing to the training of Ph.D. students at Virginia Tech and Texas A&M, and providing support for an early career post-doctoral researcher at RPI. Undergraduate students at all of the participating institutions will be involved in the research.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Earth Sciences (EAR)
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Stephen Harlan
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Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
United States
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