Mapping and classifying large deformation from digital imagery: Application to analogue models of lithosphere deformation

Taco Broerse, Nemanja Krstekanić, Cor Kasbergen, Ernst Willingshofer

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Particle image velocimetry (PIV), a method based on image cross-correlation, is widely used for obtaining velocity fields from time-series of images of deforming objects. Rather than instantaneous velocities, we are interested in reconstructing cumulative deformation, and use PIV-derived incremental displacements for this purpose. Our focus is on analogue models of tectonic processes, which can accumulate large deformation. Importantly, PIV provides incremental displacements during analogue model evolution in a spatial reference (Eulerian) frame, without the need for explicit markers in a model. We integrate the displacements in a material reference (Lagrangian) frame, such that displacements can be integrated to track the spatial accumulative deformation field as a function of time. To describe cumulative, finite deformation, various strain tensors have been developed, and we discuss what strain measure best describes large shape changes, as standard infinitesimal strain tensors no longer apply for large deformation. PIV or comparable techniques have become a common method to determine strain in analogue models. However, the qualitative interpretation of observed strain has remained problematic for complex settings. Hence, PIV-derived displacements have not been fully exploited before, as methods to qualitatively characterize cumulative, large strain have been lacking. Notably, in tectonic settings, different types of deformation-extension, shortening, strike-slip-can be superimposed. We demonstrate that when shape changes are described in terms of Hencky strains, a logarithmic strain measure, finite deformation can be qualitatively described based on the relative magnitude of the two principal Hencky strains. Thereby, our method introduces a physically meaningful classification of large 2-D strains. We show that our strain type classification method allows for accurate mapping of tectonic structures in analogue models of lithospheric deformation, and complements visual inspection of fault geometries. Our method can easily discern complex strike-slip shear zones, thrust faults and extensional structures and its evolution in time. Our newly developed software to compute deformation is freely available and can be used to post-process incremental displacements from PIV or similar autocorrelation methods.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)984-1017
Number of pages34
JournalGeophysical Journal International
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • and high strain deformation zones
  • and modelling
  • Continental tectonics: compressional
  • Continental tectonics: extensional
  • Continental tectonics: strike-slip and transform
  • faults
  • Fractures
  • Kinematics of crustal and mantle deformation
  • Mechanics
  • theory

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