Mechanical and Microphysical Constraints on Co-seismic Rupture into the Creeping Segment of the San Andreas Fault

Monday, 15 December 2014
Melodie E French, Frederick M Chester and Judith Savaso Chester, Texas A & M University, Geology & Geophysics, College Station, TX, United States
Experimentally-determined mechanical properties of clay-rich fault rock, and the associated micromechanical processes, are used to constrain the conditions of slip instability along the San Andreas Fault (SAF). Using smectite-rich fault gouge collected from the Central Deforming Zone (CDZ) of the SAF in the San Andreas Fault Observatory at Depth (SAFOD), rotary and triaxial shear deformation experiments were conducted at rates that correspond to co-seismic slip (1 m/s) and in-situ creep (~10-10 s-1). Frictional strength depends on rate, temperature, availability of pore water, and fabric development, all of which reflect operation of different microscopic mechanisms at high and low shear rates. On the basis of the results, we use an energy balance for a propagating rupture to evaluate the potential for seismic slip along the CDZ.

Appropriate scaling of the gouge strength from experimental to in-situ conditions, particularly for seismic slip rates, is critical to evaluating seismic hazards. Accordingly, the micromechanical processes identified from results of the deformation experiments are used to constrain and evaluate several different scaling relations between strength, critical displacement, and normal stress for the CDZ gouge. Experiments show that, at in situ creep rates, dislocation glide in clay is the rate-controlling mechanism and is responsible for the low strength (µ = 0.11), which limits the potential energy available for sustaining co-seismic frictional slip. As a consequence, microseismic patches within the CDZ are predicted to arrest for all scaling relationships under in-situ deformation conditions. Dynamic weakening at co-seismic rates involves thermal fluid pressurization, and for some scaling relations may be sufficient to sustain propagation of a rupture that nucleates within the adjacent locked segment into the CDZ