Evidence from high-temporal-resolution strain rates for strain softening due to episodic fluid influx at Passo del Sole, Central Swiss Alps
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Berg (2007) determined hand-sample-scale high-temporal-resolution strain rates from rotated garnet for two samples of quartzose pelitic gneiss at Passo del Sole, Central Swiss Alps, documenting a correlation between dramatic increases in strain rate and compositionally anomalous garnet growth zones. Considering additional evidence that these anomalous zones resulted from externally derived ephemeral fluid flow, he concluded that increased strain rates at Passo del Sole are the result of strain softening caused by fluid influx. This study tests Berg's interpretation by calculating new hand-sample-scale high-temporal-resolution strain rates for two additional samples of the same gneiss: a control sample (Sample PDS 03-30) that shows no unusual zoning patterns, implying that it was unaffected by fluids; and another (Sample PDS 03-2) that features a prominent Ca spike, suggesting that it has been affected by fluid influx. Unique features of garnet from this locality--contemporaneity of chemical zones, near-simultaneous nucleation, size-proportional growth, and rock-wide chemical equilibrium--were exploited to calculate strain rates of unprecedentedly high temporal resolution. Thermodynamically modeled temperatures for several growth-zone boundaries in each garnet crystal were combined with a regional heating rate of 11.5 ± 3.5 °C/Myr (presumed constant) and measured deflections of inclusion trails in each zone to calculate strain rates for several discrete time increments during garnet growth. Sample PDS 03-2 displays a 2- to 16-fold increase in strain rate that correlates with growth of the high-Ca zone; strain rates are 0.4 x 10⁻¹⁴ s⁻¹ to 4.1 x 10⁻¹⁴ s⁻¹ for zones with normal Ca concentration and 9.1 x 10⁻¹⁴ s⁻¹ to 17.9 x 10⁻¹⁴ s⁻¹ for the high-Ca zone. Distinct amongst all analyzed samples from Passo del Sole, Sample PDS 03-30--which has not been affected by fluid influx--shows no fluctuations in strain rates, which remain low and similar (0.2 x 10⁻¹⁴ s⁻¹ to 2.6 x 10⁻¹⁴ s⁻¹) across all zones. Results from this study therefore further substantiate the correlation of high strain rates with compositionally anomalous zones, strengthening the interpretation that elevated strain rates at Passo del Sole result from strain softening caused by episodic, externally controlled flow of fluids through the system during synkinematic garnet growth.