Laboratory-observed frictional slip instabilities in samples of the Tohoku plate boundary megathrust

Thursday, 18 December 2014: 8:30 AM
Matt Ikari, MARUM - University of Bremen, Bremen, Germany, Yoshihiro Ito, Kyoto University, Kyoto, Japan, Kohtaro Ujiie, University of Tsukuba, Tsukuba, Japan and Achim Kopf, MARUM, University of Bremen, Bremen, Germany
The plate boundary megathrust at the Japan Trench is remarkable due to its capability for a wide range of fault slip styles. In addition to the extraordinarily large amount of coseismic slip (several 10’s of meters) that reached the seafloor during the 2011 Tohoku-Oki earthquake, the the Japan Trench is also known host slow earthquakes. The location of these slow earthquakes coincide with the rupture area of the 2011 Tohoku earthquake; one was observed to occur in the month before the 2011 earthquake and was likely ongoing during the earthquake. This shows that the frictional behavior of the Japan Trench megathrust is complex and thus failure can occur in a variety of styles.

Samples of the plate boundary fault zone in the Tohoku region were recovered ~7 km from the Japan Trench axis, within the region of largest coseismic slip during the Tohoku earthquakes, during Integrated Ocean Drilling Program Expedition 343, the Japan Trench Fast Drilling Project (JFAST). We used these samples in laboratory friction experiments in order to examine the slip behavior of the shallow Tohoku megathrust. In our tests, we sheared the samples at 10 µm/s to establish a steady shear geometry and friction level and subsequently decrease the slip velocity to 2.7 nm/s, equal to the convergence rate between the Pacific and North American plates (85 mm/yr) and thus simulating realistically slow fault slip rates. Regular stick-slip behavior was observed soon after the velocity decrease but ceases as friction evolves to a new residual level. Shearing then mostly proceeds as stable creep, however infrequent friction perturbations are observed which occur two to three times over several mm. Unlike normal stick-slip behavior, we observe stress increases before the stress drop so that the friction level before and after the event are similar. The stress drop is ~0.015 in friction (~100 kPa) and occurs over several hours; therefore we interpret these events to be laboratory-generated slow earthquakes. No slip instabilities were observed in friction experiments conducted at higher slip rates using the same sample, suggesting that such behavior is a consequence of plate-rate slip velocities. Our results demonstrate that the shallow Tohoku megathrust is capable of generating slow slip instabilities as well as creep at tectonic convergence rates.