A perspective on the emergence of modern structural geology: Celebrating the feedbacks between historical-based and process-based approaches


Structural geology has emerged as an integrative, synthetic science in the past 50 years, focused on deciphering the history preserved in the rock record and determining the processes of rock deformation. Owing to the nature of structural geology, studies focus on historical elements, such as structural inheritance and tectonic history, and increasingly involve theoretical, process-based approaches. The strength of the field is that it uses these historical- and process-based approaches simultaneously in order to determine the three-dimensional architecture, kinematic evolution, and dynamic conditions of lithospheric deformation over a wide range of spatial and temporal scales. In this contribution we focus on significant progress made in understanding shear zones, fault zones, intrusions, and migmatites, both as individual features and as systems. Intrinsic to these advances are insights into the strain history, specifically through the temporal evolution of geologic structures. Increasingly sophisticated geochronological techniques have advanced the field of modern structural geology by allowing age determinations to be linked to rock microstructure and deformational fabrics, from which displacement rates and strain rates can be estimated in some settings. Structural studies involving new approaches (e.g., trenching), and integrated with geomorphology and geodesy, have been applied to study active geologic structures in near surface settings. Finally, significant progress has been made in constraining the rheology of naturally deformed rocks. These studies generally rely on results of experimental deformation, with microstructural analyses providing the connection between naturally deformed rocks and results of experiments. Integration of field-based observations, laboratory-derived rheological information, and numerical models provide significant opportunities for future work, and continues the tradition of simultaneously using historical- and process-based approaches.

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Book Chapter