Within oceanic lithosphere a fossilized fabric is often preserved originating from the time of plate formation. Such fabric is thought to form at the mid-ocean ridge when olivine crystals align with the direction of plate spreading. It is unclear, however, whether this fossil fabric is preserved within slabs during subduction or overprinted by subduction-induced deformation. The alignment of olivine crystals, such as within fossil fabrics, can generate anisotropy that is sensed by passing seismic waves. Seismic anisotropy is therefore a useful tool for investigating the dynamics of subduction zones, but it has so far proved difficult to observe the anisotropic properties of the subducted slab itself. Here we analyse seismic anisotropy in the subducted Nazca slab beneath Peru and find that the fast direction of seismic wave propagation aligns with the contours of the slab. We use numerical modelling to simulate the olivine fabric created at the mid-ocean ridge, but find it is inconsistent with our observations of seismic anisotropy in the subducted Nazca slab. Instead we find that an orientation of the olivine crystal fast axes aligned parallel to the strike of the slab provides the best fit, consistent with along-strike extension induced by flattening of the slab during subduction (A. Kumar et al., manuscript in preparation). We conclude that the fossil fabric has been overprinted during subduction and that the Nazca slab must therefore be sufficiently weak to undergo internal deformation.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Earth and Planetary Sciences(all)