Dehydration of partly or completely serpentinized ultramafic rocks can increase the pore fluid pressure and induce brittle failure, a process referred to as dehydration embrittlement. However the extents of strain localization and unstable frictional sliding during deserpentinization are still under debate. In the layered ultramafic sections of the Leka Ophiolite Complex in the Central Norwegian Caledonides, prograde metamorphism of serpentinite veins led to local fluid production and to the growth of Mg-rich and coarse-grained olivine with abundant magnetite inclusions and δ18O values ‰ below the host rock. Embrittlement associated with the dehydration caused faulting along highly localized (<10 μm-wide) slip planes near the centers of the original serpentinite veins and pulverization of wall rock olivine. These features along with an earthquake-like size distribution of fault offsets suggest unstable frictional sliding rather than slower creep. Structural heterogeneities in the form of serpentinite veins clearly have first-order controls on strain localization and frictional sliding during dehydration. As most of the oceanic lithosphere is incompletely serpentinized, heterogeneities represented by a non-uniform distribution of serpentinite are common and may increase the likelihood that dehydration embrittlement triggers earthquakes.
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