Earthquake lubrication and healing explained by amorphous nanosilica
Wednesday, 16 December 2015
Poster Hall (Moscone South)
Earthquake slip and rupture propagation require fault strength to decrease during slip. Extreme shear weakening observed in laboratory friction experiments on silica-rich rocks has been explained by the formation of a hydrated amorphous ‘silica gel’ on the slip surface, but the mode of formation and deformation behavior of this material are not known. In addition, the wear material displays time-dependent strengthening on timescales of hours to days. We performed shearing experiments on chert rocks and analyzed the wear material formed at a range of slip rates from 10-4 – 10-1 m/s. We show by transmission electron microscopy (TEM) and X-ray diffraction that silica lubrication is the result of the formation of amorphous nanopowder rather than a gel. The nanopowder has distinct structure and properties when compared to commercially available amorphous silica nanoparticles, which result from the degree and distribution of hydration and the style of bond strain within particles (observed by Raman spectroscopy and FTIR). The lubrication effect is due to intra-particle plasticity, even at low temperature and interparticle lubrication caused by trapping of water layers between hydrated surfaces. The hours to days timescale of healing may be explained by the natural time-dependent sintering between the hydrated surfaces of the nanopowder. Formation of amorphous silica nanopowders during slip can explain the general characteristics of earthquake ruptures, including the timescales of coseismic weakening and post-seismic healing.