Exploring conceptual geodynamic models: numerical method and application to tectonics and fluid flow

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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Geodynamic modelling, via computer simulations, offers an easily controllable method for investigating the behaviour of an Earth system and providing feedback to conceptual models of geological evolution. However, most available computer codes have been developed for engineering or hydrological applications, where strains are small and post-failure deformation is not studied. Such codes cannot simultaneously model large deformation and porous fluid flow. To remedy this situation in the face of tectonic modelling, a numerical approach was developed to incorporate porous fluid flow into an existing high-deformation code called Ellipsis. The resulting software, with these twin capabilities, simulates the evolution of highly deformed tectonic regimes where fluid flow is important, such as in mineral provinces. A realistic description of deformation depends on the accurate characterisation of material properties and the laws governing material behaviour. Aside from the development of appropriate physics, it can be a difficult task to find a set of model parameters, including material properties and initial geometries, that can reproduce some conceptual target. In this context, an interactive system for the rapid exploration of model parameter space, and for the evaluation of all model results, replaces the traditional but time-consuming approach of finding a result via trial and error. The visualisation of all solutions in such a search of parameter space, through simple graphical tools, adds a new degree of understanding to the effects of variations in the parameters, the importance of each parameter in controlling a solution, and the degree of coverage of the parameter space. Two final applications of the software code and interactive parameter search illustrate the power of numerical modelling within the feedback loop to field observations. In the first example, vertical rheological contrasts between the upper and lower crust, most easily related to thermal profiles and mineralogy, exert a greater control over the mode of crustal extension than any other parameters. A weak lower crust promotes large fault spacing with high displacements, often overriding initial close fault spacing, to lead eventually to metamorphic core complex formation. In the second case, specifically tied to the history of compressional orogenies in northern Nevada, exploration of model parameters shows that the natural reactivation of early normal faults in the Proterozoic basement, regardless of basement topography or rheological contrasts, would explain the subsequent elevation and gravitationally-induced thrusting of sedimentary layers over the Carlin gold trend, providing pathways and ponding sites for mineral-bearing fluids.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Western Australia
  • Groves, David, Supervisor
  • Ord, Alison, Supervisor
  • Ferrez Weinberg, Roberto, Supervisor
  • Moresi, Louis, Advisor
Thesis sponsors
Award date23 May 2005
Publication statusUnpublished - 2004


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