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Published December 1, 2010 | Published
Journal Article Open

Rupture modes in laboratory earthquakes: Effect of fault prestress and nucleation conditions


Seismic inversions show that earthquake risetimes may be much shorter than the overall rupture duration, indicating that earthquakes may propagate as self-healing, pulse-like ruptures. Several mechanisms for producing pulse-like ruptures have been proposed, including velocity-weakening friction, interaction of dynamic rupture with fault geometry and local heterogeneity, and effect of bimaterial contrast. We present experimental results on rupture mode selection in laboratory earthquakes occurring on frictional interfaces, which were prestressed both in compression and in shear. Our experiments demonstrate that pulse-like ruptures can exist in the absence of a bimaterial effect or of local heterogeneities. We find a systematic variation from crack-like to pulse-like rupture modes with both (1) decreasing nondimensional shear prestress and (2) decreasing absolute levels of shear and normal prestress for the same value of nondimensional shear prestress. Both pulse-like and crack-like ruptures can propagate with either sub-Rayleigh or supershear rupture speeds. Our experimental results are consistent with theories of ruptures on velocity-weakening interfaces, implying that velocity-weakening friction plays an important role in governing the dynamic behavior of earthquake ruptures. We show that there is no measurable fault-normal stress decrease on the fault plane due to the nucleation procedure employed in experiments, and hence, this is not a factor in the rupture mode selection. We find that pulse-like ruptures correspond to the levels of nondimensional shear prestress significantly lower than the static friction coefficient, suggesting that faults hosting pulse-like ruptures may operate at low levels of prestress compared to their static strength.

Additional Information

© 2011 American Geophysical Union. Received 9 September 2009; revised 25 May 2010; accepted 6 August 2010; published 1 December 2010. Nadia Lapusta gratefully acknowledges the support of NSF grant EAR 0548277 for this study. Ares J. Rosakis also gratefully acknowledges the support of NSF grants EAR 0207873 and EAR 0911723, the U.S. Department of Energy grant DE‐FG52‐06NA-26209, and MURI grant N000140610730 (Y.D.S. Rajapakse, Program Manager).

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August 22, 2023
August 22, 2023