Earthquake rupture process recreated from a natural fault surface

Journal of Geophysical Research B: Solid Earth
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Abstract

What exactly happens on the rupture surface as an earthquake nucleates, spreads, and stops? We cannot observe this directly, and models depend on assumptions about physical conditions and geometry at depth. We thus measure a natural fault surface and use its 3D coordinates to construct a replica at 0.1 m resolution to obviate geometry uncertainty. We can recreate stick-slip behavior on the resulting finite element model that depends solely on observed fault geometry. We clamp the fault together and apply steady state tectonic stress until seismic slip initiates and terminates. Our recreated M~1 earthquake initiates at contact points where there are steep surface gradients because infinitesimal lateral displacements reduce clamping stress most efficiently there. Unclamping enables accelerating slip to spread across the surface, but the fault soon jams up because its uneven, anisotropic shape begins to juxtapose new high-relief sticking points. These contacts would ultimately need to be sheared off or strongly deformed before another similar earthquake could occur. Our model shows that an important role is played by fault-wall geometry, though we do not include effects of varying fluid pressure or exotic rheologies on the fault surfaces. We extrapolate our results to large fault systems using observed self-similarity properties, and suggest that larger ruptures might begin and end in a similar way, though the scale of geometrical variation in fault shape that can arrest a rupture necessarily scales with magnitude. In other words, fault segmentation may be a magnitude dependent phenomenon and could vary with each subsequent rupture.

Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Earthquake rupture process recreated from a natural fault surface
Series title Journal of Geophysical Research B: Solid Earth
DOI 10.1002/2015JB012448
Volume 120
Issue 11
Year Published 2015
Language English
Publisher AGU
Contributing office(s) Pacific Coastal and Marine Science Center
Description 11 p.
First page 7852
Last page 7862
Online Only (Y/N) N
Additional Online Files (Y/N) N