Length Scale of interface heterogeneities selects propagation mechanism of frictional slip fronts
We present three-dimensional finite-element simulations showing the propagation of slip fronts at striped heterogeneous interfaces. The heterogeneous area consists of alternating stripes of weaker and stronger frictional properties, which is equivalent to a lower and higher fracture energy, respectively. By comparing the slip front propagation at interfaces that differ solely by the length scale of the heterogeneous pattern, we illustrate that two different propagation regimes exist. Interfaces with wide stripes present slip fronts with propagation speeds that transition from sub-Rayleigh to inter-sonic. Thinner stripes are, however, characterized by the propagation of sub-Rayleigh slip fronts, which are preceded by slip pulses of negligible slip in the weaker stripes. From a macroscopic point of view, an interface with a smaller heterogeneous pattern appears to be stronger than the equivalent coarser interface even though both have the same average properties. The numerical results as well as a theoretical approach based on fracture-mechanics considerations suggest that the origin of these two distinct propagation mechanisms lies in the interaction between the length scales of the cohesive zone and the heterogeneous configuration. We further show by estimating the relevant length scales that the occurring propagation mechanism is influenced by the friction weakening rate of the interface as well as the shear modulus of the bulk material. (C) 2015 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.