The physical mechanism by which the low-frequency earthquakes (LFEs) that make up portions of tectonic (also called non-volcanic) tremor are created is poorly understood. In many areas of the world, tectonic tremor and LFEs appear to be strongly tidally modulated, whereas ordinary earthquakes are not. Anomalous seismic wave speeds, interpreted as high pore fluid pressure, have been observed in regions that generate tremor. Here we build upon previous laboratory studies that investigated the response of stick-slip on artificial faults to oscillatory, tide-like loading. These previous experiments were carried out using room-dry samples of Westerly granite, at one effective stress. Here we augment these results with new experiments on Westerly granite, with the addition of varying effective stress using pore fluid at two pressures. We find that raising pore pressure, thereby lowering effective stress can significantly increase the degree of correlation of stick-slip to oscillatory loading. We also find other pore fluid effects that become important at higher frequencies, when the period of oscillation is comparable to the diffusion time of pore fluid into the fault. These results help constrain the conditions at depth that give rise to tidally modulated LFEs, providing confirmation of the effective pressure law for triggering and insights into why tremor is tidally modulated while earthquakes are at best only weakly modulated.
Additional publication details
Laboratory triggering of stick-slip events by oscillatory loading in the presence of pore fluid with implications for physics of tectonic tremor