The topographic signature of temperature-controlled rheological transitions in an accretionary prism
Abstract. The local topographic slope of the accretionary prism is often used together with the critical taper theory to determine the effective friction on subduction megathrust. In this context, extremely small topographic slopes associated with extremely low effective basal friction (μ≤0.05) can be interpreted either as seismically locked portions of megathrust, which deforms episodically at dynamic slip rates or as a viscously creeping décollement. Existing mechanical models of the
... evolution of accretionary prism, sandbox models, and numerical simulations alike, generally do not account for heat conservation nor for temperature-dependent rheological transitions. Here, we solve for advection–diffusion of heat with imposed constant heat flow at the base of the model domain. This allows the temperature to increase with burial and therefore to capture how the brittle–ductile transition and dehydration reactions within the décollement affect the dynamic of the accretionary prism and its topography. We investigate the effect of basal heat flow, shear heating, thermal blanketing by sediments, and the thickness of the incoming sediments. We find that while reduction of the friction during dewatering reactions results as expected in a flat segment often in the forearc, the brittle–ductile transition results unexpectedly in a local increase of topographic slope by decreasing internal friction. We show that this counterintuitive backproduct of the numerical simulation can be explained by the onset of internal ductile deformation in between the active thrusts. Our models, therefore, imply significant viscous deformation of sediments above a brittle décollement, at geological rates, and we discuss its consequences in terms of interpretation of coupling ratios at subduction megathrust. We also find that, with increasing burial and ductile deformation, the internal brittle deformation tends to be accommodated by backthrusts until the basal temperature becomes sufficient to form a viscous channel, parallel to the décollement, which serves as the root to a major splay fault and its backthrust and delimits a region with a small topographic slope. Morphologic resemblances of the brittle–ductile and ductile segments with forearc high and forearc basins of accretionary active margins, respectively, allow us to propose an alternative metamorphic origin of the forearc crust in this context.