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Slip Complexity in Earthquake Fault Models

James R. Rice, & Yehuda Ben-Zion

Published April 30, 1996, SCEC Contribution #269

We summarize studies of earthquake fault models that give rise to slip complexities like those in natural earthquakes. For models of smooth faults between elastically deformable continua, it is critical that the friction laws involve a characteristic distance for slip weakening or evolution of surface state. That results in a finite nucleation size, or coherent slip patch size, h*. Models of smooth faults, using numerical cell size properly small compared to h*, show periodic response or complex and apparently chaotic histories of large events but have not been found to show small event complexity like the self-similar (power law) Gutenberg-Richter frequency-size statistics. This conclusion is supported in the present paper by fully inertial elastodynamic modeling of earthquake sequences. In contrast, some models of locally heterogeneous faults with quasi-independent fault segments, represented approximately by simulations with cell size larger than h* so that the model becomes "inherently discrete," do show small event complexity of the Gutenberg-Richter type. Models based on classical friction laws without a weakening length scale or for which the numerical procedure imposes an abrupt strength drop at the onset of slip have h* = 0 and hence always fall into the inherently discrete class. We suggest that the small-event complexity that some such models show will not survive regularization of the constitutive description, by inclusion of an appropriate length scale leading to a finite h*, and a corresponding reduction of numerical grid size.

Rice, J. R., & Ben-Zion, Y. (1996). Slip Complexity in Earthquake Fault Models. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 93(9), 3811-3818.