Rupture complexity and the supershear transition on rough faults

Lucile Bruhat, Zijun Fang, & Eric M. Dunham

Published January 23, 2016, SCEC Contribution #6052

Field investigations suggest that supershear earthquakes occur on geometrically simple, smooth fault segments. In contrast, dynamic rupture simulations show how heterogeneity of stress, strength, and fault geometry can trigger supershear transitions, as well as other complex rupture styles. Here we examine the Fang and Dunham (2013) ensemble of 2-D plane strain dynamic ruptures on fractally rough faults subject to strongly rate weakening friction laws to document the effect of fault roughness and prestress on rupture behavior. Roughness gives rise to extremely diverse rupture styles, such as rupture arrests, secondary slip pulses that rerupture previously slipped fault sections, and supershear transitions. Even when the prestress is below the Burridge-Andrews threshold for supershear on planar faults with uniform stress and strength conditions, supershear transitions are observed. A statistical analysis of the rupture velocity distribution reveals that supershear transients become increasingly likely at higher stress levels and on rougher faults. We examine individual ruptures and identify recurrent patterns for the supershear transition. While some transitions occur on fault segments that are favorably oriented in the background stress field, other transitions happen at the initiation of or after propagation through an unfavorable bend. We conclude that supershear transients are indeed favored by geometric complexity. In contrast, sustained supershear propagation is most common on segments that are locally smoother than average. Because rupture style is so sensitive to both background stress and small-scale details of the fault geometry, it seems unlikely that field maps of fault traces will provide reliable deterministic predictions of supershear propagation on specific fault segments.

Bruhat, L., Fang, Z., & Dunham, E. M. (2016). Rupture complexity and the supershear transition on rough faults. Journal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth, 121(1), 210-224. doi: 10.1002/2015JB012512.

Related Projects & Working Groups
Fault and Rupture Mechanics