Shape of pinch and swell structures as a viscosity indicator: application to lower crustal polyphase rocks

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

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Citations (Scopus)


Pinch and swell structures occur where a more competent layer in a weaker matrix is subjected to layer-parallel extension. In this contribution, we use numerical models to explore the use of pinch and swell structure shape symmetry and asymmetry as a determinant of relative viscosity between layers. Maximum asymmetry is attained when the matrix viscosity on one side is subtly weaker than the competent layer, while the other side is significantly weaker.Our numerical results are directly applied to asymmetrically developed pinch and swell structures in exposed lower continental crust. Here, shape geometries observed in a shear zone comprised of plagioclase-dominated, garnet-dominated and mixed amphibole-plagioclase-dominated bands, reveals that the plagioclase-dominated band is the most competent band and is marginally stronger (2×) and significantly stronger (10-40×) than the fine grained garnet-dominated and mixed amphibole-plagioclase-dominated band, respectively. Based on the experimentally determined viscosity of a plagioclase-dominated material and quantitative microstructural analysis, the viscosity range of the natural rock bands is 2.8 × 1015 to 1.1 × 1017 Pa s. Consequently, the assumption that the experimentally-derived plagioclase flow law is an appropriate proxy for the middle to lower continental crust may lead to a viscosity over-estimation by up to forty times.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)32-45
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Structural Geology
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2016


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