Creep on seismogenic faults: Insights from analogue earthquake experiments

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Matthias Rosenau, Michael Rudolf , Onno Oncken


Tectonic faults display a range of slip behaviors including continuous and episodic slip covering rates of more than 10 orders of magnitude (m/s). The physical control of such kinematic observations remains ambiguous. To gain insight into the slip behavior of brittle faults we performed laboratory stick-slip experiments using a rock analogue, granular material. We realized conditions under which our seismogenic fault analogue shows a variety of slip behaviors ranging from slow, quasi continuous creep to episodic slow slip to dynamic rupture controlled by a limited number of parameters. We explore a wide parameter space by varying loading rate from those corresponding to interseismic to postseismic rates and normal loads equivalent to hydrostatic to lithostatic conditions at seismogenic depth. The experiments demonstrate that significant interseismic creep and earthquakes may not be mutually exclusive phenomena and that creep signals vary systematically with the fault’s seismic potential. Accordingly, the transience of interseismic creep scales with fault strength and seismic coupling as well as with the maturity of the seismic cycle. Loading rate independence of creep signals suggests that mechanical properties of faults (e.g. seismic coupling) can be inferred from shortterm observations (e.g. aftershock sequences). Moreover, we observe the number and size of small episodic slip events to systematically increase towards the end of the seismic cycle providing an observable proxy of the relative shear stress state on seismogenic faults. Modelling the data suggest that for very weak faults in a late stage of their seismic cycle, the observed creep systematics may lead to the chimera of a perennially creeping fault releasing stress by continuous creep and/or transient slow slip instead of large earthquakes.



Earth Sciences, Geophysics and Seismology, Physical Sciences and Mathematics, Tectonics and Structure


friction, Megathrust, Earthquakes, subduction, faults, precursors, aseismic creep, granular materials, locking, transients


Published: 2019-05-30 09:47

Last Updated: 2019-06-20 04:59

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CC BY Attribution 4.0 International

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