pure and applied geophysics

, Volume 122, Issue 2–4, pp 583–607 | Cite as

Pore-fluid pressures and frictional heating on a fault surface

  • Charles W. Mase
  • Leslie Smith


This study considers the effects of heat transfer and fluid flow on the thernal, hydrologic, and mechanical response of a fault surface during seismic failure. Numerical modeling techniques are used to account for the coupling of the thermal, fluid-pressure, and stress fields. Results indicate that during an earthquake the failure surface is heated to a tempeature required for the thermal expansion of pore fluids to balance the rate of fluid loss due to flow and the fluid-volume changes due to pore dilatation. Once this condition is established, the pore fluids pressurize and the shear strength decreases rapidly to a value sufficient to maintain the thermal pressurization of pore fluids at near-lithostatic values. If the initial fluid pressure is hydrostatic, the final temperature attained on the failure surface will increase with depth, because a greater pressure increase can occur before a near-lithostatic pressure is reached. The rate at which thermal pressurization proceeds depends primarily on the hydraulic characteristics of the surrounding porous medium, the coefficient of friction on the fault surface, and the slip velocity. If either the permeability exceeds 10−15 m2 or the porous medium compressibility exceeds 10−8 Pa−1, then frictional melting may occur on the fault surface before thermal pressurization becomes significant. If the coefficient of friction is less than 10−1 and if the slip velocity is less than 10−2 msec−1, then it is doubtful that either thermal pressurization or frictional melting on the fault surface could cause a reduction in the dynamic shear strength of a fault during an earthquake event.

Key words

Fault Pore-fluid pressure Frictional heating Numerical modeling Stress 


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Copyright information

© Birkhäuser Verlag 1985

Authors and Affiliations

  • Charles W. Mase
    • 1
  • Leslie Smith
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Geological SciencesUniversity of British ColumbiaVancouverCanada

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