A review of the formation of tectonic veins and their microstructures

Paul D Bons, Marlina A Elburg, Enrique Gomez-Rivas

Research output: Contribution to journalLiterature reviewpeer-review

474 Citations (Scopus)


Veins are common features in rocks and extremely useful structures to determine stress, strain, pressure, temperature, fluid composition and fluid origin during their formation. Here we provide an overview of the origin and terminology of veins. Contrary to the classical tripartite division of veins into syntaxial (inward growth), antitaxial (outward growth) and stretching veins (no consistent growth direction), we emphasise a continuum between syntaxial and stretching veins that form from the crack-seal process, as opposed to antitaxial veins that grow without the presence of an open fracture during growth. Through an overview of geochemical methods that can be applied to veins we also address the potential, but so far little-investigated link between microstructure and geochemistry. There are basically four mechanisms with increasing transport rates and concomitant decreasing fluid rock interaction: (1) diffusion of dissolved matter through stagnant pore fluid: (2) flow of fluid with dissolved matter through pores: (3) flow of fluid with dissolved matter through fractures and (4) movement of fractures together with the contained fluid and dissolved matter (mobile hydrofractures). A vein system is rarely the product of a single transport and mineral precipitation mechanism, as these vary strongly both in space and time within a single system. (C) 2012 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)33-62
Number of pages30
JournalJournal of Structural Geology
Early online date25 Jul 2012
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2012

Bibliographical note

This study was carried out within the framework of DGMK (German Society for Petroleum and Coal Science and Technology) research project 718 “Mineral Vein Dynamics Modelling”, which is funded by the companies ExxonMobil Production Deutschland GmbH, GDF SUEZ E&P Deutschland GmbH, RWE Dea AG and Wintershall Holding GmbH, within the basic research programme of the WEG Wirtschaftsverband Erdöl- und Erdgasgewinnung e.V. We thank the companies for their financial support and their permission to publish these results. We thank the reviewers Shaun Barker and Noriyoshi Tsuchiya for their helpful comments.


  • tectonic veins
  • fractures
  • rock failure
  • fluid flow
  • vein microstructure
  • vein growth
  • oxygen-isotope thermometry
  • antitaxial strain fringes
  • rare-earth-element
  • progressively widening vein
  • self-organized criticality
  • syntectonic fibrous veins
  • open hydraulic fractures
  • surface-derived fluids
  • crack-seal mechanism
  • ductile shear zones


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