Earthquake faulting and the dynamics of subducting lithosphere are among the frontiers of geophysics. Exploring the nature, cause, and implications of geophysical phenomena requires multidisciplinary investigations focused at a range of spatial scales. Within this dissertation, I present studies of micro-scale processes using observational seismology and experimental mineral physics to provide important constraints on models for a range of large-scale geophysical phenomena within the crust and mantle.
The Great Basin (GB) in the western U.S. is part of the diffuse North American-Pacific plate boundary. The interior of the GB occasionally produces large earthquakes, yet the current distribution of regional seismic networks poorly samples it. The EarthScope USArray Transportable Array provides unprecedented station density and data quality for the central GB. I use this dataset to develop an earthquake catalog for the region that is complete to M 1.5. The catalog contains small-magnitude seismicity throughout the interior of the GB. The spatial distribution of earthquakes is consistent with recent regional geodetic studies, confirming that the interior of the GB is actively deforming everywhere and all the time. Additionally, improved event detection thresholds reveal that swarms of temporally-clustered repeating earthquakes occur throughout the GB. The swarms are not associated with active volcanism or other swarm triggering mechanisms, and therefore, may represent a common fault behavior.
Enstatite (Mg,Fe)SiO3 is the second most abundant mineral within subducting lithosphere. Previous studies suggest that metastable enstatite within subducting slabs may persist to the base of the mantle transition zone (MTZ) before transforming to high-pressure polymorphs. The metastable persistence of enstatite has been proposed as a potential cause for both deep-focus earthquakes and the stagnation of slabs at the base of the MTZ. I show that natural Al- and Fe-bearing enstatite reacts more readily than previous studies and by multiple transformation mechanisms at conditions as low as 1200°C and 18 GPa. Metastable enstatite is thus unlikely to survive to the base of the MTZ. Additionally, coherent growth of akimotoite and other high-pressure phases along polysynthetic twin boundaries provides a mechanism for the inheritance of crystallographic preferred orientation from previously deformed enstatite-bearing rocks within subducting slabs.
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