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Fluid escape from subduction zones controlled by channel-forming reactive porosity


Water within the oceanic lithosphere is returned to Earth’s surface at subduction zones. Observations of metamorphosed veins preserved in exhumed slabs suggest that fluid can escape via channel networks. Yet, it is unclear how such channels form that allow chemically bound water to escape the subducting slab as the high pressures during subduction reduce the porosity of rocks to nearly zero. Here we use multiscale rock analysis combined with thermodynamic modelling to show that fluid flow initiation in dehydrating serpentinites is controlled by intrinsic chemical heterogeneities, localizing dehydration reactions at specific microsites. Porosity generation is directly linked to the dehydration reactions and resultant fluid pressure variations force the reactive fluid release to organize into vein networks across a wide range of spatial scales (μm to m). This fluid channelization results in large-scale fluid escape with sufficient fluxes to drain subducting plates. Moreover, our findings suggest that antigorite dehydration reactions do not cause instantaneous rock embrittlement, often presumed as the trigger of intermediate-depth subduction zone seismicity.

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Figure 1: Equilibrium phase diagram depicting the metamorphic evolution of a typical serpentinite.
Figure 2: Outcrop and microphotographs of eclogite-facies olivine vein networks as a result of serpentinite dehydration in the Erro-Tobbio area, Italy.
Figure 3: Microstructures of fluid source regions ahead of first-order dehydration veins.
Figure 4: Illustration of the reactive porosity model.
Figure 5: Evolution of the reactive porosity model versus a naturally occurring dehydration vein network.


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The paper greatly benefited from discussions with H. E. King, H. Austrheim, B. Jamtveit, L. Rüpke, P. Meakin, C. Spiers, M. Drury and A. Latini. T.J. and M.S. acknowledge discussion within the EU Early Stage Training Network ZIP (Zooming In between Plates, FP7-PEOPLE-2013, 604713) and thank the European Commission for funding. O.P., T.J., Y.Y.P. and J.C.V. acknowledge their interdisciplinary discussions as members of PGP without which this project would never have been realized. We thank W. Bach for the IODP samples and J. Ague. We also thank A. Schreiber (GFZ Potsdam) for preparing FIB cuts. O.P. was supported through a Veni grant (863.13.006), awarded by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO). J.C.V. was supported by the European Research Council (ERC) starting grant MADE-IN-EARTH (335577). Y.Y.P. acknowledges support from CADMOS (Center for Advanced Modelling Science).

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All authors participated in collecting the data and interpretation of the results; O.P. and T.J. collected and interpreted the microstructural and chemical data: O.P., T.J., J.C.V. and Y.Y.P. developed the final model together; T.J. and M.S. did the field work and first petrological sample recognitions.

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Correspondence to Oliver Plümper or Timm John.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Plümper, O., John, T., Podladchikov, Y. et al. Fluid escape from subduction zones controlled by channel-forming reactive porosity. Nature Geosci 10, 150–156 (2017).

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