Transient creep in subduction zones by long-range dislocation interactions in olivine
Large earthquakes transfer stress from the shallow lithosphere to the underlying viscoelastic lower crust and upper mantle, inducing transient creep during the postseismic interval. Recent experiments on olivine have provided a new rheological model for this transient creep based on accumulation and release of back stresses among dislocations. Here, we test whether natural rocks preserve dislocation-induced stress heterogeneity consistent with the back-stress hypothesis by mapping olivine from the palaeosubduction interface of the Oman-UAE ophiolite with high-angular resolution electron backscatter diffraction. The olivine preserves heterogeneous residual stresses that vary in magnitude by several hundred megapascals over length scales of a few micrometres. Large stresses are commonly spatially associated with elevated densities of geometrically necessary dislocations within subgrain interiors. These spatial relationships, along with characteristic probability distributions of the stresses, confirm that the stress heterogeneity is generated by the dislocations and records their long-range elastic interactions. Images of dislocations decorated by oxidation display bands of high and low dislocation density, suggesting that dislocation interactions contributed to organisation of the substructure. These results support the applicability of the back-stress model of transient creep to deformation in the mantle portion of plate-boundary shear zones. The model predicts that rapid stress changes, such as those imposed by large earthquakes, can induce order-of-magnitude changes in viscosity that depend nonlinearly on the stress change, consistent with inferences of mantle rheology from geodetic observations.