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Seismically damaged regolith as self-organized fragile geological feature

Norman H. Sleep

Published 2011, SCEC Contribution #1515

The S-wave velocity in the shallow subsurface within seismically active regions self-organizes so that typical strong dynamic shear stresses marginally exceed the Coulomb elastic limit. The dynamic velocity from major strike-slip faults yields simple dimensional relations. The near-field velocity pulse is essentially a Love wave. The dynamic shear strain is the ratio of the measured particle velocity over the deep S-wave velocity. The shallow dynamic shear stress is this quantity times the local shear modulus. The dynamic shear traction on fault parallel vertical planes is finite at the free surface. Coulomb failure occurs on favorably oriented fractures and internally in intact rock. I obtain the equilibrium shear modulus by starting a sequence of earthquakes with intact stiff rock extending all the way to the surface. The imposed dynamic shear strain in stiff rock causes Coulomb failure at shallow depths and leaves cracks in it wake. Cracked rock is more compliant than the original intact rock. Cracked rock is also weaker in friction, but shear modulus changes have a larger effect. Each subsequent event causes additional shallow cracking until the rock becomes compliant enough that it just reaches Coulomb failure over a shallow depth range of tens to hundreds of meters. Further events maintain the material at the shear modulus as a function where it just fails. The formalism provided in the paper yields reasonable representation of the S-wave velocity in exhumed sediments near Cajon Pass and the San Fernando Valley of California. A general conclusion is that shallow rocks in seismically active areas just become nonlinear during typical shaking. This process causes transient changes in S-wave velocity, but not strong nonlinear attenuation of seismic waves. Wave amplitudes significantly larger than typical ones would strongly attenuate and strongly damage the rock.

Sleep, N. H. (2011). Seismically damaged regolith as self-organized fragile geological feature. Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems, 12, Q12013. doi: 10.1029/2011GC003837.