Intersonic and Supersonic ruptures in a model of dynamic rupture in a layered medium

Tuesday, 16 December 2014
Xiao Ma and Ahmed E Elbanna, University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, Urbana, IL, United States
The velocity structure in the lithosphere is quite complex and is rarely homogeneous. Wave reflection, transmission, and diffraction from the boundaries of the different layers and inclusions are expected to lead to a rich dynamic response and significantly affect rupture propagation on embedded faults. Here, we report our work on modeling dynamic rupture in an elastic domain with an embedded soft (stiff) layer as a first step towards modeling rupture propagation in realistic velocity structures.

We use the Finite Element method (Pylith) to simulate rupture on a 2D in-plane fault embedded in an elastic full space. The simulated domain is 30 km wide and 100km long. Absorbing boundary conditions are used around the edges of the domain to simulate an infinite extension in all directions. The fault operates under linear slip-weakening friction law. We initiate the rupture by artificially overstressing a localized region near the left edge of the fault. We consider embedded soft/stiff layers with 20% to 60% reduction/increase of wave velocity respectively. The embedded layers are placed at different distances from the fault surface.

We observed that the existence of a soft layer significantly shortens the transition length to supershear propagation through the Burridge-Andrews mechanism. The higher the material contrast, the shorter the transition length to supershear propagation becomes. We also observe that supershear rupture could be generated at pretress values that are lower than what is theoretically predicted for a homogeneous medium. We find that the distance from the lower boundary of the soft layer to the fault surface has a stronger influence on the supershear transition length as opposed to the thickness of the soft layer.

In the existence of an embedded stiffer layer we found that rupture could propagate faster than the fault zone P-wave speed. In this case, the propagating rupture generate two Mach cones; one is associated with the shear wave, and the other is associated with the local P-wave speed. This is a signature of supersonic crack tips. We also noted a smooth transition into supershear, with the rupture speed increasing continuously through the so-called ‘energetically forbidden zone’ (between Rayleigh wave speed and shear wave speed) corresponding to the wave speeds of the background medium.