Thesis defense of Solenn HERTGEN

Mechanical behavior of rocks and lithosphere dynamics in convergence zones


Convergence zones are key objects to the understanding of the lithosphere dynamics. They are the location correspond to places of intense deformation as evidenced by the concentration and magnitude of recorded earthquakes. On a larger scale of time and space, these deformations generally result in nappes stacking whose study offers access to the different structural levels involved in the mountain belt structuration. Precisely characterizing the structuring dynamics of these units as well as the parameters controlling this dynamic is a crucial step that would allow in particular a better quantification of lithospheric dynamics. The aim of this thesis is twofold: (1) clarifying the rheological behavior of rocks in the Pressure-Temperature (P-T) conditions of the eclogitic facies at the subduction interface and (2) characterizing and quantifying the influence of the overriding plate rheology, and more specifically, the role of its crustal part, on the spatio-temporal evolution of convergence zones. For this, I used a multi-disciplinary approach. First, I present a multi-scale analysis combining fieldwork and metamorphic petrology, which allowed me to study the deformation within High Pressure-Low Temperature (HP-LT) rocks at the subduction interface in the Mont-Emilius klippe (Western Alps, Italy). Then, I show the results of a quantitative study combining 3D and 2D thermo-mechanical modeling of convergence zones. The entire set of models allowed me to analyze different parameters influencing the rheological structure of the overriding plate, such as the initial geotherm, the thicknesses of the lithosphere and the crust, and the nature of the involved materials.
All the performed models are constrained/compared by/with data from natural examples. The results of the study on deformed rocks within the subduction interface highlight the possible brittle behavior of rocks at pressure and temperature conditions on the order of 2.15-2.40 GPa and 500-550 °C, i.e., in the eclogitic facies. The recording of such a deformation mode is of paramount importance because it challenges the paradigm of subduction interface caracterized by ductile behavior without resistance. The results obtained with the numerical models show that the rheology of the overriding plate, as well as that of only its crustal part, has a first-order influence on the overall dynamics of the convergence zones by modifying the mode of subduction, trench kinematics, the mode of exhumation during collision, the timing for slab break-off and back-arc basin formation, the location and intensity of deformation within the overriding plate. The combination of petrology and numerical modeling methods allowed me to obtain a quantified analysis of the influence of the rheology of the lithospheres involved in convergence zones on the dynamics of these zones. This thesis presents new constraints for our understanding of the mechanical response of the lithosphere at different spatial scales as a function of its rheological structure. The new data presented here reveal the major impact of the lithosphere rheology in convergence zones. This parameter leads us to reconsider our current view of the convergence zones.