Cataclasite is a cohesive granular fault rock.[1] Comminution, also known as cataclasis, is an important process in forming cataclasites.[2] They fall into the category of cataclastic rocks which are formed through faulting or fracturing in the upper crust.[3] Cataclasites are distinguished from fault gouge, which is incohesive, and fault breccia, which contains coarser fragments.[1]

Types of cataclasite

Cataclasites are composed of fragments of the pre-existing wall rock as well as a matrix consisting of crushed microfragments, which cohesively holds the rock together.[2] There are different types of classification schemes for cataclasites in the fault rock literature. The original classification scheme by Sibson classifies them by their proportion of fine-grained matrix to angular fragments.[1] Many may also use the term fault breccia for describing a cataclasite with coarser grains. A fault breccia is a cataclastic rock with clasts that are larger than 2 mm making up at least 30% of the rock.[4]

These are the varieties based on the classification scheme of cataclasites proposed by Sibson:[1]

  • Protocataclasite is a type of cataclasite in which the matrix takes up less than 50% of the total volume,
  • Mesocataclasite is a type of cataclasite in which the matrix occupies between 50 and 90 percent of the total volume, and
  • Ultracataclasite is a type of cataclasite characterized by a matrix occupying greater than 90% of the total volume.

This classification scheme separates distinct features of cataclasites, but any fault rock that has been formed through brittle deformation mechanisms containing pieces of the fractured pre-exisitng rock type are normally referred to as cataclasites. Cataclasites are different from mylonites, another type of fault rock, that is classified by the presence of a schistosity and was formed through ductile deformation methods.[5]

Although cataclasites usually lack an oriented fabric, some researchers have classified a new type of cataclasite termed a “foliated cataclasite”.[6] Previously these would be classified as mylonites[1] although, through experiments, it was proven that some cataclastic mechanisms can form cataclasites with an oriented foliation solely due to brittle deformation.[6] In this case, the fault rock would be still considered a cataclasite because it was created by cataclastic mechanisms.


Cataclasites form though the progressive fracturing of mineral grains and aggregates, a process known as comminution. Cataclasites are the result of comminution, along with frictional sliding and grain rotation during faulting.[2] This crushing, frictional sliding and rotation of grains is referred to as cataclasis.[2]

Comminution, along with frictional sliding and grain boundary rotation can allow a rock to macroscopically flow over a wide brittle zone in the crust.[2] This macroscopic flow due to the combination of brittle deformation mechanisms can be referred to as cataclastic flow.[2]


Many faults near the earth’s surface are brittle and do not show signs of ductile deformation.[2] In these systems, cataclasites would be more likely to form as opposed to mylonites, which would require crystal plastic deformation. Cataclasites normally form in shallow crustal conditions where temperatures and pressures are lower.[6] At low temperatures, there is not enough energy for the crystal grains to deform plastically, thus each grain fractures as opposed to elongation or recrystallizing. Due to quartz being the main mineral in many rocks in the brittle regime of the crust, the brittle-ductile transition for quartz can be a good indication of where cataclasites would form before ductile deformation plays a role.[2] This normally refers to the uppermost 10-12 km of the continental crust.[2]


  1. Sibson, R. H. (1977). "Fault rocks and fault mechanisms". Journal of the Geological Society. 133 (3): 191–213. Bibcode:1977JGSoc.133..191S. doi:10.1144/gsjgs.133.3.0191.
  2. Fossen, Haakon (2010). Structural Geology. United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-51664-8.
  3. Higgins, Michael W. (1971). "Cataclastic Rocks". Geological Survey Professional Paper.
  4. Woodcock, N.H.; Mort, K. (2008). "Classification of fault breccias and related fault rocks". Geological Magazine. 145 (3): 435–440. Bibcode:2008GeoM..145..435W. doi:10.1017/S0016756808004883.
  5. Brodie, Kate; Fettes, Douglas; Harte, Ben; Schmid, Rolf (2007). Structural terms including fault rock terms. Recommendations by the IUGS Subcommission on the Systematics of Metamorphic Rocks. British Geological Survey. pp. 10–12.
  6. Chester, F.M.; Friedman, M.; Logan, J.M. (1985). "Foliated Cataclasites". Tectonophysics. 111 (1): 139–146. Bibcode:1985Tectp.111..139C. doi:10.1016/0040-1951(85)90071-X.
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