Dynamics of Slip Fronts at Frictional Interfaces: Analysis of Slip Precursors

The transition from sticking to sliding of frictional interfaces is a phenomenon of importance for many physical systems in nature as well as in engineering. This transition is marked by the occurrence of local slip events, often called precursors, which appear before the global sliding is observed. Such precursors to global sliding may occur on segments of geophysical faults subject to non uniform shear loading, for example a fault segment located between a locked and steadily slipping region. Sequences of small earthquakes (foreshocks) of identical seismic characteristics have been observed preceding large earthquakes in several regions. The links between the occurrence of these foreshocks and the nucleation process of large earthquakes remains elusive, but has large implications for earthquake prediction and risk assessment. These precursors have been studied experimentally by Rubinstein et al. [2007]. However, the experimental study of interfaces is challenging due to difficulties to access information at the interface. Therefore, numerical simulations are needed in order to give additional information for accurate analysis. First attempts have been undertaken using simple spring-block systems [Maegawa et al. 2010, Tromborg et al. 2011]. In this study however, we use the finite-element method, which allows us to represent accurately the continuum character of the system, and to investigate the onset and evolution of sliding at a frictional interface. The studied setup is similar to the experimental setup used by Ben-David et al. [2010]. It consists of a block of viscoelastic material in contact with a rigid body. A velocity-weakening friction law controls the friction at the interface. Special care is taken to apply appropriate regularization and viscosity in the simulation. We apply a shear load to the block, either on the top surface of the block or on one side. In both cases, the resulting shear tractions at the interface are non-uniform. The stress distribution presents a high concentration close to the edge when the load is applied on the side. Applying a non-uniform shear loading, we observe a sequence of slip precursors, which initiate at shear levels well below the global static friction threshold. These precursors stop before propagating over the entire interface, and their length increase with increasing shear force. Our results are consistent with previous experimental observations [Rubinstein et al., 2007]. We analyze the relation between the applied load, the precursors length, and the evolution of stresses at the interface.

Presented at:
American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting 2012, San Francisco, California, USA, December 3-7, 2012

 Record created 2013-02-01, last modified 2018-09-13

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