Minor fault geometry and kinematics within relay ramps is strongly related to the stress field perturbations that can be produced when two major fault segments overlap and interact. Here we integrate classical fieldwork and interpretation of a virtual outcrop to investigate the geometry and kinematics of subsidiary faults within a relay ramp along the Tre Monti normal fault in the Central Apennines. Although the Tre Monti fault strikes parallel to the regional extension (NE-SW) it shows predominant dip-slip kinematics, suggesting a NW-SE oriented extension acting at sub-regional scale (1–10 km). Conversely, the slickenlines collected on the front segment of the relay ramp highlight right-lateral kinematics. The subsidiary faults in the relay ramp show a complex geometry (variable attitudes) and slickenlines describe multiple kinematics (left-lateral, dip-slip, right-lateral), independently of their orientation. Our fault slip analysis indicates that a local stress field retrieved from the kinematic inversion of the slickenlines collected on the front segment, and likely promoted by the interaction between the overlapping fault segments that bound the relay zone, can explain most of the geometry and kinematics of the subsidiary faults. Further complexity is added by the temporal interaction with both the regional and sub-regional stress fields.
Relay ramps transfer displacement between two overlapping fault segments and are common in extensional tectonic regimes (e.g., Larsen, 1988; Peacock and Sanderson, 1991, 1994). They form in response to the mechanical interaction between the overlapping faults causing the tilting of beds, producing strong damage and, eventually, the linkage between the fault segments (Peacock and Sanderson, 1994; Fossen and Rotevatn, 2016 and references therein). Relay ramps (and interaction damage zones in general; e.g., Peacock et al., 2017) are characterized by stronger damage and by subsidiary faults and fractures having a wider range of orientations than isolated fault segments (Kattenhorn et al., 2000; Peacock et al., 2000; Peacock and Parfitt, 2002; Fossen et al., 2005; Çiftci and Bozkurt, 2007; Bastesen and Rotevatn, 2012; Long and Imber, 2012). The strong damage and the structural complexity in zones of fault interaction can have important consequences on fluid flow, leading to enhanced permeability (e.g., Berkowitz, 1995) and to a multi-directional migration of fluids, including hydrocarbons, CO2, ground water, and hydrothermal fluids (Sibson, 1996; Curewitz and Karson, 1997; Rowland and Sibson, 2004; Rotevatn et al., 2009; Dockrill and Shipton, 2010; Fossen and Rotevatn, 2016). Since about the half of the current hydrocarbon reserves are held within carbonates, carbonate-hosted relay ramps represent a very interesting case study.
Using fieldwork and virtual outcrop technologies, we investigated the subsidiary faults geometry and kinematics within a carbonatehosted relay ramp. The structural map and cross section reconstructed in our study (scale 1: 2,000 and 1:1,000 respectively) allow for a detailed characterization of the subsidiary fault geometry. The largest subsidiary faults show an orientation that is sub-parallel to the main fault segments accompanied by smaller faults with different attitudes and often striking orthogonally to the main fault. Faults also show a wide range of kinematics (left-lateral, dip-slip, right-lateral) independently of their orientation. Based on fault slip analysis, accounting for both fault geometry and kinematics, we suggest that the complex minor fault geometry and kinematics can be mostly explained by the development of a stress perturbation within the relay zone, resulting from the interaction of the overlapping segments. Further geometrical and kinematic complexity may be interpreted as due to the temporary superposition of either the stress field associated with the slip of the entire Tre Monti Fault or the regional active extension. Our results highlight that the geometry and kinematics of minor faults within relay zones are dependent on stress field interactions across the scales.