Effects of cohesion on the structural and mechanical evolution of fold and thrust belts and contractional wedges: Discrete element simulations
Morgan, Julia K.
Particle-based numerical simulations of cohesive contractional wedges can yield important perspectives on the formation and evolution of fold and thrust belts, offering particular insights into the mechanical evolution of the systems. Results of several discrete element method simulations are presented here, demonstrating the stress and strain evolution of systems with different initial cohesive strengths. Particle assemblages consolidated under gravity, and bonded to impart cohesion, are pushed from the left at a constant velocity above a weak, unbonded décollement surface. Internal thrusting causes horizontal shortening and vertical thickening, forming wedge geometries. The mean wedge taper is similar for all simulations, consistent with their similar residual and basal sliding friction values. In all examples presented here, both forethrusts and back thrusts occur, but forethrusts accommodate most of the shortening. Fault spacing and offset increase with increasing cohesion. Significant tectonic volume strain also occurs, with the greatest incremental volume strain occurring just outboard of the deformation front. This diffuse shortening serves to strengthen the unfaulted domain in front of the deformed wedge, preconditioning these materials for brittle (dilative) failure. The reach of this volumetric strain and extent of décollement slip increase with cohesive strength, defining the extent of stress transmission. Stress paths for elements tracked through the simulations demonstrate systematic variations in shear stress in response to episodes of both décollement slip and thrust fault activity, providing a direct explanation for stress fluctuations during convergence.