Upper limit on damage zone thickness controlled by seismogenic depth

Jean-Paul Ampuero, & Xiaolin Mao

Accepted February 27, 2017, SCEC Contribution #7202

The thickness of fault damage zones, a characteristic length of the cross-fault distribution of secondary fractures, significantly affects fault stress, earthquake rupture, ground motions and crustal fluid transport. Field observations indicate that damage zone thickness scales with accumulated fault displacement at short displacements, but saturates at few hundred meters for displacements larger than few kilometers. To explain this transition of scaling behavior, we conduct 3D numerical simulations of dynamic rupture with off-fault inelastic deformation on long strike-slip faults. We find that the distribution of coseismic inelastic strain is controlled by the transition from crack-like to pulse-like rupture propagation associated with saturation of the seismogenic depth. The yielding zone reaches its maximum thickness when the rupture becomes a stable pulse-like rupture. Considering fracture mechanics theory, we show that seismogenic depth controls the upper bound of damage zone thickness on mature faults by limiting the efficiency of stress concentration near earthquake rupture fronts. We obtain a quantitative relation between limiting damage zone thickness, background stress, dynamic fault strength, off-fault yield strength and seismogenic depth, which agrees with first-order field observations. Our results help linking dynamic rupture processes with field observations, and contribute to a fundamental understanding of damage zone properties.

Ampuero, J., & Mao, X. (2017). Upper limit on damage zone thickness controlled by seismogenic depth. In Ampuero, J., Mao, X., & (Eds.), Fault Zone Dynamic Processes: Evolution of Fault Properties During Seismic Rupture, (accepted). http://eu.wiley.com/WileyCDA/WileyTitle/productCd-1119156882.html