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Earthquake Ruptures with Thermal Weakening and the operation of Major Faults at Low Overall Stress Levels

Hiroyuki Noda, Eric M. Dunham, & James R. Rice

Published 2008, SCEC Contribution #1228

We model ruptures on faults that weaken in response to flash heating of microscopic asperity contacts (within a rate-and-state framework) and thermal pressurization of pore fluid. These are arguably the primary weakening mechanisms on mature faults at coseismic slip rates, at least prior to large slip accumulation. Ruptures on strongly rate-weakening faults take the form of slip pulses or cracks, depending on the background stress. Self-sustaining slip pulses exist within a narrow range of stresses: below this range, artificially nucleated ruptures arrest; above this range, ruptures are crack-like. Natural earthquakes will occur as slip pulses if faults operate at the minimum stress required for propagation. Using laboratory-based flash heating parameters, propagation is permitted when the ratio of shear to effective normal stress on the fault is 0.2--0.3; this is mildly influenced by reasonable choices of hydrothermal properties. The San Andreas and other major faults are thought to operate at such stress levels. While the overall stress level is quite small, the peak stress at the rupture front is consistent with static friction coefficients of 0.6--0.9. Growing slip pulses have stress drops $\sim$3 MPa; slip and the length of the slip pulse increase linearly with propagation distance at $\sim$0.14 m/km and $\sim$30 m/km, respectively. These values are consistent with seismic and geologic observations. In contrast, cracks on faults of the same rheology have stress drops exceeding 20 MPa, and slip at the hypocenter increases with distance at $\sim$1 m/km.

Key Words
stress drops, experimental studies, numerical models, asperities, stress, friction, slip rates, rates, temperature, laboratory studies, rupture, cracks, saturation, San Andreas Fault, pore pressure, shear, heating, propagation, focus, earthquakes, faults

Noda, H., Dunham, E. M., & Rice, J. R. (2008). Earthquake Ruptures with Thermal Weakening and the operation of Major Faults at Low Overall Stress Levels. Journal of Geophysical Research,.