Pure and Applied Geophysics

, Volume 166, Issue 5–7, pp 741–776

What Does Control Earthquake Ruptures and Dynamic Faulting? A Review of Different Competing Mechanisms



The fault weakening occurring during an earthquake and the temporal evolution of the traction on a seismogenic fault depend on several physical mechanisms, potentially concurrent and interacting. Recent laboratory experiments and geological field observations of natural faults revealed the presence, and sometime the coexistence, of thermally activated processes (such as thermal pressurization of pore fluids, melting of gouge and rocks, material property changes, thermally-induced chemical environment evolution), elasto-dynamic lubrication, porosity and permeability evolution, gouge fragmentation and wear, etc. In this paper, by reviewing in a unifying sketch all possible chemico–physical mechanisms that can affect the traction evolution, we suggest how they can be incorporated in a realistic fault governing equation. We will also show that simplified theoretical models that idealistically neglect these phenomena appear to be inadequate to describe as realistically as possible the details of breakdown process (i.e., the stress release) and the consequent high frequency seismic wave radiation. Quantitative estimates show that in most cases the incorporation of such nonlinear phenomena has significant, often dramatic, effects on the fault weakening and on the dynamic rupture propagation. The range of variability of the value of some parameters, the uncertainties in the relative weight of the various competing mechanisms, and the difference in their characteristic length and time scales sometime indicate that the formulation of a realistic governing law still requires joint efforts from theoretical models, laboratory experiments and field observations.


Rheology and friction of the fault zones constitutive laws mechanics of faulting earthquake dynamics computational seismology 


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Copyright information

© Birkhäuser Verlag, Basel 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Istituto Nazionale di Geofisica e VulcanologiaSezione di BolognaItaly

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