pure and applied geophysics

, Volume 143, Issue 1–3, pp 61–87 | Cite as

Simulation of the frictional stick-slip instability

  • Peter Mora
  • David Place
Fault Mechanics, Rupture Processes, and Fracture: Theory and Observation


A lattice solid model capable of simulating rock friction, fracture and the associated seismic wave radiation is developed in order to study the origin of the stick-slip instability that is responsible for earthquakes. The model consists of a lattice of interacting particles. In order to study the effect of surface roughness on the frictional behavior of elastic blocks being rubbed past one another, the simplest possible particle interactions were specified corresponding to radially dependent elastic-brittle bonds. The model material can therefore be considered as round elastic grains with negligible friction between their surfaces. Although breaking of the bonds can occur, fracturing energy is not considered. Stick-slip behavior is observed in a numerical experiment involving 2D blocks with rough surfaces being rubbed past one another at a constant rate. Slip is initiated when two interlocking asperities push past one another exciting a slip pulse. The pulse fronts propagate with speeds ranging from the Rayleigh wave speed up to a value between the shear and compressional wave speeds in agreement with field observations and theoretical analyses of mode-II rupture. Slip rates are comparable to seismic rates in the initial part of one slip pulse whose front propagates at the Rayleigh wave speed. However, the slip rate is an order of magnitude higher in the main part of pulses, possibly because of the simplified model description that neglected intrinsic friction and the high rates at which the blocks were driven, or alternatively, uncertainty in slip rates obtained through the inversion of seismograms. Particle trajectories during slip have motions normal to the fault, indicating that the fault surfaces jump apart during the passage of the slip pulse. Normal motion is expected as the asperities on the two surfaces ride over one another. The form of the particle trajectories is similar to those observed in stick-slip experiments involving foam rubber blocks (Bruneet al., 1993). Additional work is required to determine whether the slip pulses relate to the interface waves proposed by Brune and co-workers to explain the heat-flow paradox and whether they are capable of inducing a significant local reduction in the normal stress. It is hoped that the progressive development of the lattice solid model will lead to realistic simulations of earthquake dynamics and ultimately, provide clues as to whether or not earthquakes are predictable.

Key words

Friction earthquakes nonlinear dynamics lattice solid numerical simulation numerical modeling 


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Copyright information

© Birkhäuser Verlag 1994

Authors and Affiliations

  • Peter Mora
    • 1
  • David Place
    • 1
  1. 1.Institut de Physique du GlobeParis, Cedex 05France

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