Earthquakes in the continental crust commonly occur in the upper 15 to 20 km. Recent studies demonstrate that earthquakes also occur in the lower crust of collision zones and play a key role in metamorphic processes that modify its physical properties. However, details of the failure process and sequence of events that lead to seismic slip in the lower crust remain uncertain. Here, we present observations of a fault zone from the Bergen Arcs, western Norway, which constrain the deformation processes of lower crustal earthquakes. We show that seismic slip and associated melting are preceded by fracturing, asymmetric fragmentation, and comminution of the wall rock caused by a dynamically propagating rupture. The succession of deformation processes reported here emphasize brittle failure mechanisms in a portion of the crust that until recently was assumed to be characterized by ductile deformation.
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