Thermodynamic method for generating random stress distributions on an earthquake fault

Open-File Report 2012-1226

and ORCID iD



This report presents a new method for generating random stress distributions on an earthquake fault, suitable for use as initial conditions in a dynamic rupture simulation. The method employs concepts from thermodynamics and statistical mechanics. A pattern of fault slip is considered to be analogous to a micro-state of a thermodynamic system. The energy of the micro-state is taken to be the elastic energy stored in the surrounding medium. Then, the Boltzmann distribution gives the probability of a given pattern of fault slip and stress. We show how to decompose the system into independent degrees of freedom, which makes it computationally feasible to select a random state. However, due to the equipartition theorem, straightforward application of the Boltzmann distribution leads to a divergence which predicts infinite stress. To avoid equipartition, we show that the finite strength of the fault acts to restrict the possible states of the system. By analyzing a set of earthquake scaling relations, we derive a new formula for the expected power spectral density of the stress distribution, which allows us to construct a computer algorithm free of infinities. We then present a new technique for controlling the extent of the rupture by generating a random stress distribution thousands of times larger than the fault surface, and selecting a portion which, by chance, has a positive stress perturbation of the desired size. Finally, we present a new two-stage nucleation method that combines a small zone of forced rupture with a larger zone of reduced fracture energy.

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USGS Numbered Series
Thermodynamic method for generating random stress distributions on an earthquake fault
Series title:
Open-File Report
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Year Published:
U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location:
Reston, VA
Contributing office(s):
Earthquake Science Center, Menlo Park Science Center
Report: 112 p.; Computer Code ZIP; Sample Data ZIP
United States
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