The stabilizing effect of high pore-fluid pressure along subduction megathrust faults: Evidence from friction experiments on accretionary sediments from the Nankai Trough

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John Bedford, Daniel Faulkner, Michael Allen, Takehiro Hirose


Pore-fluid pressure is an important parameter in controlling fault mechanics as it lowers the effective normal stress, allowing fault slip at lower shear stress. It is also thought to influence the nature of fault slip, particularly in subduction zones where areas of slow slip have been linked to regions of elevated pore-fluid pressure. Despite the importance of pore-fluid pressure on fault mechanics, its role on controlling fault stability, which is determined by the friction rate parameter (a-b), is poorly constrained, particularly for fault materials from subduction zones. In the winter of 2018-19 the accretionary complex overlying the Nankai Trough subduction zone (SW Japan) was drilled as part of Integrated Ocean Drilling Program (IODP) Expedition 358. Here we test the frictional stability of the accretionary sediments recovered during the expedition by performing a series of velocity-stepping experiments on powdered samples (to simulate fault gouge) while systematically varying the pore-fluid pressure and effective normal stress conditions. The Nankai gouges, despite only containing 25% phyllosilicates, are strongly rate-strengthening and exhibit negative values for the rate-and-state parameter b. We find that for experiments where the effective normal stress is held constant and the pore-fluid pressure is increased the Nankai gouges become more rate-strengthening, and thus more stable (an increase in (a-b) of ~6×10-5 MPa-1 with increasing pore-pressure). In contrast, when the pore-fluid pressure is held constant and the effective normal stress is varied, there is minimal effect on the frictional stability of the gouge. The increase in frictional stability of the gouge at elevated pore-fluid pressure is caused by an evolution in the rate-and-state parameter b, which becomes more negative at high pore-fluid pressure. These results have important implications for understanding the nature of slip in subduction zones and suggest the stabilizing effect of pore-fluid pressure could promote slow slip or aseismic creep on areas of the subduction interface that might otherwise experience earthquake rupture.



Physical Sciences and Mathematics


Subduction zone, Nankai Trough, Pore-fluid pressure, Effective normal stress


Published: 2021-04-21 03:53

Last Updated: 2022-01-17 08:49

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