A stick-slip event was induced in a cylindrical sample of Westerly granite containing a preexisting natural fault by loading at constant confining pressure of 150 MPa. Continuously recorded acoustic emission (AE) data and computer tomography (CT)-generated images of the fault plane were combined to provide a detailed examination of microscale processes operating on the fault. The dynamic stick-slip event, considered to be a laboratory analog of an earthquake, generated an ultrasonic signal that was recorded as a large-amplitude AE event. First arrivals of this event were inverted to determine the nucleation site of slip, which is associated with a geometric asperity on the fault surface. CT images and AE locations suggest that a variety of asperities existed in the sample because of the intersection of branch or splay faults with the main fault. This experiment is compared with a stick-slip experiment on a sample prepared with a smooth, artificial saw-cut fault surface. Nearly a thousand times more AE were observed for the natural fault, which has a higher friction coefficient (0.78 compared to 0.53) and larger shear stress drop (140 compared to 68 MPa). However at the measured resolution, the ultrasonic signal emitted during slip initiation does not vary significantly between the two experiments, suggesting a similar dynamic rupture process. We propose that the natural faulted sample under triaxial compression provides a good laboratory analogue for a field-scale fault system in terms of the presence of asperities, fault surface heterogeneity, and interaction of branching faults. ?? 2009.
Additional publication details
Premonitory acoustic emissions and stick-slip in natural and smooth-faulted Westerly granite