Coseismic fluid–rock interactions at high temperatures in the Chelungpu fault

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Aqueous fluids are thought to have an essential role in faulting and the dynamic propagation of earthquake rupture. Fluid overpressure can affect earthquake nucleation1,2 and in a process termed thermal pressurization, pore fluid pressure produced by frictional heating can reduce the effective normal stress acting on the fault surface3,4,5. This may lead to a marked reduction in fault strength during slip. However, the coseismic presence of fluids within slip zones and the role of fluids in dynamic fault weakening is still a matter of debate. Here we present compositions of major and trace elements as well as isotope ratios of core samples representing relatively undamaged as well as very fine-grained deformed material from three active zones of the Chelungpu fault, Taiwan. Depth profiles across the most intensely sheared bands that range in thickness from 2–15 cm exhibit sharp compositional peaks of fluid-mobile elements and of strontium isotopes. We suggest that high-temperature fluids (>350 C) derived from heating of sediment pore fluids during the earthquake interacted with material within the fault zone and mobilized the elements. The coseismic presence of high-temperature fluids under conditions of low hydraulic diffusivity6 within the fault zone is favourable for thermal pressurization. This effect may have caused a dynamic decrease of friction along the Chelungpu fault during the 1999 magnitude 7.6 Chi-Chi earthquake.

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Figure 1: Depth profiles of magnetic susceptibility, trace-element concentrations and Sr and Pb isotope ratios across the three fault zones.
Figure 2: Trace-element and isotope compositions of the black gouges at 1,136.31 m, 1,194.73 m and 1,243.43 m and calculated gouge compositions.
Figure 3: Calculated compositions of the black gouge in FZB1136 as a function of the fluid/gouge mass ratio.

Change history

  • 15 September 2008

    In the abstract of the version of this Letter originally published online, the word 'undamages' should have read 'undamaged'. This has now been corrected for all versions of the Letter.


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We thank the TCDP Hole B research group, including K. Aoike, K. Fujimoto, Y. Hashimoto, M. Murayama, T. Fukuchi, M. Ikehara, H. Ito, M. Kinoshita, K. Masuda, T. Matsubara, O. Matsubayashi, K. Mizoguchi, N. Nakamura, K. Otsuki, T. Shimamoto, H. Sone and M. Takahashi.

Author information

T.I., paper writing, project planning and isotope analysis; M.T., project planning, sample collection and isotope analysis; K.N., J.M., O.T., M.S., major- and trace-element and isotope analyses; T. H., T.M., W.T., W.L., H.K., project planning and sample collection; W.S., S.-R.S., project planning.

Correspondence to Tsuyoshi Ishikawa.

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Supplementary figure S1 and table S1 (PDF 619 kb)

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Ishikawa, T., Tanimizu, M., Nagaishi, K. et al. Coseismic fluid–rock interactions at high temperatures in the Chelungpu fault. Nature Geosci 1, 679–683 (2008) doi:10.1038/ngeo308

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