Microstructures reveal multistage melt present strain localisation in mid-ocean gabbros

Robyn L. Gardner*, Sandra Piazolo, Nathan R. Daczko, Patrick Trimby

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Citations (Scopus)


In this work, we examine the tectono-metamorphic evolution of gabbroic rocks of the Atlantis Bank oceanic core complex, South West Indian Ridge, focusing on multistage strain localisation associated with exhumation. We study a sample from the core complex footwall below the depth of seawater hydrothermal fluid-rock interaction. We identify a succession of increasing strain localisation where early solid-state deformation of an olivine gabbro is succeeded by two episodes of melt present deformation resulting in increasing localisation of both strain and melt flux into a narrowing zone.

The early melt-absent solid-state deformation occurs dominantly in the dislocation creep regime, and localises strain at the tens of metre scale. This evolved into melt present deformation characterised by (i) grain size reduction by replacement reactions, and (ii) dislocation creep and incipient grain boundary sliding in coarse- and fine-grained parts, respectively. This is based on (1) microstructures indicative of the former presence of melt, (2) a shift to lower calcium plagioclase, and (3) reaction textures involving partial replacement of olivine and diopside by fine grained enstatite and hornblende exhibiting only minor internal deformation features.

A narrow (2–3 mm) high strain zone which cuts the earlier shear zone foliation at ~30°, exhibits strong and near complete grain size reduction by melt-rock reaction and tightly spaced foliation within a millimetre-wide high strain zone. Here, strain localisation is contemporaneous with a second melt influx shown by (1) complete olivine replacement by fine grained hornblende and enstatite exhibiting no crystallographic preferred orientation, (2) microstructures indicative of the former presence of melt, and (3) changes in the mineral chemistry of diopside, plagioclase, enstatite and hornblende. We suggest deformation was dominated by melt assisted grain boundary sliding allowing higher volumes of melt flux, a high degree of weakening and deformation focused in the narrow shear zone than during the porous melt flow in the wider, early shear zone.

This combined microstructural and microchemical study highlights that the recognition of changes in deformation regime, their time relationships and potential melt related deformation are critical for understanding, and therefore modelling, progressive strain localisation, melt flux and the rheological evolution of oceanic detachment faults.

Original languageEnglish
Article number105572
Pages (from-to)1-18
Number of pages18
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2020


  • Scientific ocean drilling
  • Oceanic core complex
  • Strain localisation
  • Melt microstructures
  • Melt-present deformation


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