Pure and Applied Geophysics

, Volume 168, Issue 12, pp 2151–2166

Slip Sequences in Laboratory Experiments Resulting from Inhomogeneous Shear as Analogs of Earthquakes Associated with a Fault Edge


  • Shmuel M. Rubinstein
    • The Racah Institute of PhysicsThe Hebrew University of Jerusalem
  • Itay Barel
    • The School of ChemistryTel Aviv University
  • Ze’ev Reches
    • School of Geology and GeophysicsUniversity of Oklahoma
  • Oleg M. Braun
    • Institute of PhysicsNational Academy of Sciences of Ukraine
  • Michael Urbakh
    • The School of ChemistryTel Aviv University
    • The Racah Institute of PhysicsThe Hebrew University of Jerusalem

DOI: 10.1007/s00024-010-0239-1

Cite this article as:
Rubinstein, S.M., Barel, I., Reches, Z. et al. Pure Appl. Geophys. (2011) 168: 2151. doi:10.1007/s00024-010-0239-1


Faults are intrinsically heterogeneous with common occurrences of jogs, edges and steps. We therefore explore experimentally and theoretically how fault edges may affect earthquake and slip dynamics. In the presented experiments and accompanying theoretical model, shear loads are applied to the edge of one of two flat blocks in frictional contact that form a fault analog. We show that slip occurs via a sequence of rapid rupture events that initiate from the loading edge and are arrested after propagating a finite distance. Each successive event extends the slip size, transfers the applied shear across the block, and causes progressively larger changes of the contact area along the contact surface. Resulting from this sequence of events, a hard asperity is dynamically formed near the loaded edge. The contact area beyond this asperity is largely reduced. These sequences of rapid events culminate in slow slip events that precede a major, unarrested slip event along the entire contact surface. We suggest that the 1998 M5.0 Sendai and 1995 off-Etorofu earthquake sequences may correspond to this scenario. Our work demonstrates, qualitatively, how the simplest deviation from uniform shear loading may significantly affect both earthquake nucleation processes and how fault complexity develops.

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© Springer Basel AG 2010