Scales Depencence of Fracture Density and Fabric in the Damage Zone of a Large Displacement Continental Transform Fault



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Characterization of fractures in an arkosic sandstone from the western damage zone of the San Andreas Fault (SAF) at San Andreas Fault Observatory at Depth (SAFOD) was used to better understand the origin of damage and to determine the scale dependence of fracture fabric and fracture density. Samples for this study were acquired from core taken at approximately 2.6 km depth during Phase 1 drilling at SAFOD. Petrographic sections of samples were studied using an optical petrographic microscope equipped with a universal stage and digital imaging system, and a scanning electron microscope with cathodoluminescence (SEM-CL) imaging capability. Use of combined optical imaging and SEM-CL imaging was found to more successfully acquire true fracture density at the grain scale. Linear fracture density and fracture orientation were determined for transgranular fractures at the whole thin section scale, and intragranular fractures at the grain scale. The microscopic scale measurements were compared to measurements of mesoscopic scale fractures in the same core, as well as to published data from an ancient, exhumed trace of the SAF in southern California. Fracturing in the damage zone of the SAF fault follows simple scaling laws from the grain scale to the km scale. Fracture density distributions in the core from SAFOD are similar to distributions in damaged arkosic sandstone of the SAF along other traces. Transgranular fractures, which are dominantly shear fractures, indicate preferred orientation approximately parallel to the dominant sets of the mesoscale faults. Although additional work is necessary to confirm general applicability, the results of this work demonstrate that fracture density and orientation distribution over a broad range of scales can be determined from measurements at the mesoscopic scale using empirical scaling relations.