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Brittle faulting at elevated temperature and vanishing effective stress

August 13, 2022

If brittle fault strength depends only on friction, slip instability is discouraged at low effective normal stress, σ. Stress drop and the critical stiffness necessary for unstable sliding both vanish with σ; small earthquakes cannot occur. Very low σ is inferred in the source region of low-frequency earthquakes (LFEs) on the San Andreas fault (SAF). Moreover, if pore pressure, p, is undrained at low σ, then instabilities are prevented at all scales. This is due to dilatant strengthening which arises due to a dependence of porosity on strain rate. Dilatant strengthening is σ-independent and dominates at low σ. Undrained p is inferred over time scales of less than a few days for the SAF LFEs. Based on experiments that measure rapid contact overgrowth between 350 and 530°C at very low σ, fault failure controlled by time-dependent cementation is invoked as an explanation for the SAF LFEs. Because this “cohesion” is σ-independent, stress drops can occur at σ = 0. If in addition cohesion exceeds any dilatant strengthening during slip, cohesion dominates strength at low σ. Dilatancy measured in prior faulting and shear experiments indicate that at all stress levels steady-state porosity depends on σ in addition to strain rate. Moreover, porosity at low σ depends elastically on the confining and differential stresses. A model with these additional pore pressure effects, friction, and time-dependent cohesion, applied to the SAF LFEs produces stress drops, slip speeds, and durations that are consistent with the observations, when the shear-induced dilatancy is not extreme.

Publication Year 2022
Title Brittle faulting at elevated temperature and vanishing effective stress
DOI 10.1029/2022JB024335
Authors Nicholas M. Beeler
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title JGR Solid Earth
Index ID 70247742
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Earthquake Science Center