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Earthquake nucleation on rough faults

Harbord, Christopher W.A.; Nielsen, Stefan B.; De Paola, Nicola; Holdsworth, Robert E.

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Christopher W.A. Harbord


Earthquake nucleation is currently explained using rate and state stability analysis, which successfully models the behavior of laboratory simulated faults with constant thickness gouge layers. However, roughness is widely observed on natural faults and its influence on earthquake nucleation is little explored. Here we conduct frictional sliding experiments with different roughness on granite samples at upper crustal conditions (30–200 MPa). We observe a wide range of behaviors, from stable sliding to stick slip, depending on the combination of roughness parameters and normal stress. Stick slip is repeatedly observed in velocity-strengthening regimes, and increases in normal stress stabilize slip; these features are not fully predicted by current stability analysis. We derive a new instability criterion that matches our observations, based on fracture energy considerations and the size of weak patches created by fault roughness.


Harbord, C. W., Nielsen, S. B., De Paola, N., & Holdsworth, R. E. (2017). Earthquake nucleation on rough faults. Geology, 45(10), 931-934.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Jun 28, 2017
Online Publication Date Aug 8, 2017
Publication Date Oct 1, 2017
Deposit Date Jun 28, 2017
Publicly Available Date Jul 3, 2017
Journal Geology
Print ISSN 0091-7613
Electronic ISSN 1943-2682
Publisher Geological Society of America
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 45
Issue 10
Pages 931-934


Accepted Journal Article (5.4 Mb)

Copyright Statement
© 2017 The Authors. Gold Open Access: This paper is published under the terms of the CC-BY license.

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