We report on laboratory experiments which investigate interactions between aseismic slip, stress changes, and seismicity on a critically stressed fault during the nucleation of stick-slip instability. We monitor quasi-static and dynamic changes in local shear stress and fault slip with arrays of gages deployed along a simulated strike-slip fault (2 m long and 0.4 m deep) in a saw cut sample of Sierra White granite. With 14 piezoelectric sensors, we simultaneously monitor seismic signals produced during the nucleation phase and subsequent dynamic rupture. We observe localized aseismic fault slip in an approximately meter-sized zone in the center of the fault, while the ends of the fault remain locked. Clusters of high-frequency foreshocks (Mw ~ −6.5 to −5.0) can occur in this slowly slipping zone 5–50 ms prior to the initiation of dynamic rupture; their occurrence appears to be dependent on the rate at which local shear stress is applied to the fault. The meter-sized nucleation zone is generally consistent with theoretical estimates, but source radii of the foreshocks (2 to 70 mm) are 1 to 2 orders of magnitude smaller than the theoretical minimum length scale over which earthquake nucleation can occur. We propose that frictional stability and the transition between seismic and aseismic slip are modulated by local stressing rate and that fault sections, which would typically slip aseismically, may radiate seismic waves if they are rapidly stressed. Fault behavior of this type may provide physical insight into the mechanics of foreshocks, tremor, repeating earthquake sequences, and a minimum earthquake source dimension.
Additional publication details
Foreshocks during the nucleation of stick-slip instability