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Rheological transitions facilitate fault‐spanning ruptures on seismically active and creeping faults

van den Ende, M. P. A. and Chen, J. and Niemeijer, A. R. and Ampuero, J.-P. (2020) Rheological transitions facilitate fault‐spanning ruptures on seismically active and creeping faults. Journal of Geophysical Research. Solid Earth . ISSN 2169-9313. (In Press)

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Physical constraints on the seismogenic potential of major fault zones may aid in improving seismic hazard assessments, but the mechanics of earthquake nucleation and rupture are obscured by the complexity that faults display. In this work, we investigate the mechanisms behind giant earthquakes by employing a microphysically based seismic cycle simulator. This microphysical approach is directly based on the mechanics of friction as inferred from laboratory tests, and can explain a broad spectrum of fault slip behaviour. We show that regular earthquakes are controlled by the size and distribution of (nominally) frictionally unstable asperities, whereas fault‐spanning earthquakes are governed by a rheological transition occurring in creeping fault segments. Moreover, this facilitates the nucleation of giant earthquakes on faults that are weakly seismically coupled (i.e. creeping). This microphysically based approach offers opportunities for investigating long‐term seismic cycle behaviour of natural faults.

Item Type:Article
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URLURL TypeDescription Paper ItemCode
Ampuero, J.-P.0000-0002-4827-7987
Alternate Title:Giant earthquakes on quiet faults governed by rheological transitions
Additional Information:© 2020 American Geophysical Union. Accepted manuscript online: 24 June 2020; Manuscript accepted: 11 June 2020; Manuscript revised: 02 May 2020; Manuscript received: 31 December 2019. The authors thank two anonymous reviewers and the associate editor A.A. Gabriel for their thoughtful comments on the manuscript. MvdE thanks A. Fagereng for sharing his views on fault zone structure. The most recent version of the QDYN source code is publicly available at; an archived version is available at This project is supported by the European Research Council (ERC), grant no. 335915, and by the NWO Vidi-grant 854.12.001 awarded to A.R. Niemeijer, and by the French government through the UCAJEDI Investments in the Future project managed by the National Research Agency (ANR) with the reference number ANR-15-IDEX-01. JPA acknowledges supplemental funding to NSF CAREER grant EAR-1151926 for research opportunities in Europe.
Group:Seismological Laboratory
Funding AgencyGrant Number
European Research Council (ERC)335915
Nederlandse Organisatie voor Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek (NWO)854.12.001
Agence Nationale pour la Recherche (ANR)ANR-15-IDEX-01
Subject Keywords:seismic cycle simulations; fault heterogeneity; microphysical modelling
Record Number:CaltechAUTHORS:20180410-102006492
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Official Citation:van den Ende, M. P. A., Chen, J., Niemeijer, A. R., & Ampuero, J.‐P. (2020). Rheological transitions facilitate fault‐spanning ruptures on seismically active and creeping faults. Journal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth, 125, e2019JB019328.
Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:85723
Deposited By: Tony Diaz
Deposited On:10 Apr 2018 18:19
Last Modified:06 Jul 2020 22:57

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