Journal article

Frictional evolution, acoustic emissions activity and off-fault damage in simulated faults sheared at seismic slip rates

We present a series of high-velocity friction tests conducted on Westerly granite, using the Slow to HIgh Velocity Apparatus (SHIVA) installed at Istituto Nazionale di Geofisica e Vulcanologia Roma with acoustic emissions (AEs) monitored at high frequency (4 MHz). Both atmospheric humidity and pore fluid (water) pressure conditions were tested, under effective normal stress sigma(eff)(n) in the range 5-20 MPa and at target sliding velocities V-s in the range 0.003-3 m/s. Under atmospheric humidity two consecutive friction drops were observed. The first one is related to flash weakening, and the second one to the formation and growth of a continuous layer of melt in the slip zone. In the presence of fluid, a single drop in friction was observed. Average values of fracture energy are independent of effective normal stress and sliding velocity. However, measurements of elastic wave velocities on the sheared samples suggested that larger damage was induced for 0.1 < V-s < 0.3 m/s. This observation is supported by AEs recorded during the test, most of which were detected after the initiation of the second friction drop, once the fault surface temperature was high. Some AEs were detected up to a few seconds after the end of the experiments, indicating thermal rather than mechanical cracking. In addition, the presence of pore water delayed the onset of AEs by cooling effects and by reducing of the heat produced, supporting the link between AEs and the production and diffusion of heat during sliding. Using a thermoelastic crack model developed by Fredrich and Wong (1986), we confirm that damage may be induced by heat diffusion. Indeed, our theoretical results predict accurately the amount of shortening and shortening rate, supporting the idea that gouge production and gouge comminution are in fact largely controlled by thermal cracking. Finally, we discuss the contribution of thermal cracking in the seismic energy balance. In fact, while a dichotomy exists in the literature regarding the partitioning between fracture and heat energy, the experimental evidence reported here suggests that both contribute to fault weakening and off-fault damage.


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