Poroelastic effects destabilize rate-strengthening friction to generate slow slip events

Elias R. Heimisson, Eric M. Dunham, & Martin Almquist

In Preparation September 6, 2018, SCEC Contribution #8875

Slow slip events on tectonic faults, sliding instabilities that never accelerate to inertially limited ruptures or earthquakes, are one of the most enigmatic phenomena in frictional sliding. While observations of slow slip events continue to mount, a plausible mechanism that permits instability while simultaneously limiting slip speed remains elusive. Rate-and-state friction has been successful in describing most aspects of rock friction, faulting, and earthquakes; current explanations of slow slip events appeal to rate-weakening friction to induce instabilities, which are then stalled by additional stabilizing processes like dilatancy or a transition to rate-strengthening friction at high slip rates. However, the temperatures and/or clay-rich compositions at slow slip locations are almost ubiquitously associated with rate-strengthening friction. In this study, we propose a fundamentally different instability mechanism that reconciles this contradiction, demonstrating how slow slip events can arise with rate-strengthening friction. We identify two destabilizing mechanisms, both reducing frictional shear strength through reductions in effective normal stress, that counteract the stabilizing effects of rate-strengthening friction. The instability develops into slow slip pulses. We quantify parameter controls on pulse length, propagation speed, and other characteristics, and demonstrate consistency with observations of tectonic slow slip events as well as laboratory tribology experiments. Our results challenge the widely held view that instabilities require rate-weakening friction, with implications for geosciences, tribology, physics, and engineering.

Heimisson, E. R., Dunham, E. M., & Almquist, M. (2018). Poroelastic effects destabilize rate-strengthening friction to generate slow slip events. Nature, (in preparation).