Geology & Geophysics Editors' Highlights

Laboratory Study Probes Triggering Mechanisms of Earthquakes

A new experimental technique traces the state of a shearing fault gouge and shows for the first time how friction of a fault surface can change as a function of varying normal stress.

Source: Journal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth


Changes in normal stress on a fault surface can occur during an earthquake, which may influence the frictional strength of the activated fault. However, the nature of changes in surface friction due to rapid increases or decreases in normal stress is poorly understood. Shreedharan et al. [2019] investigated the effect of changes in normal stress on shear friction in laboratory experiments to better understand this relationship.

Experiments were conducted by sliding blocks of granite against each other, while monitoring the shear stress response and how well the surfaces are in contact during sliding. The contact between the blocks could be monitored in-situ during experiments using ultrasonic waves. A strong correlation was found between the amplitude of ultrasonic waves and the applied normal stress, which the authors used to propose a model that accounts for the effect of normal stress perturbations on the contact behavior between sliding rock surfaces. The amplitude of ultrasonic waves furthermore reflected the development of surface friction during shear after the change in normal stress.

A micromechanical multi-contact model is used to qualitatively explain the evolution of frictional strength as a function of normal stress changes, which helps understand the triggering mechanisms of earthquakes.

Citation: Shreedharan, S., Rivière, J., Bhattacharya, P., & Marone, C. [2019]. Frictional state evolution during normal stress perturbations probed with ultrasonic waves. Journal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth, 124.

—Bjarne S. G. Almqvist, Associate Editor, JGR: Solid Earth

Text © 2019. The authors. CC BY-NC-ND 3.0
Except where otherwise noted, images are subject to copyright. Any reuse without express permission from the copyright owner is prohibited.