The evolution of fault strength during the seismic cycle plays a key role in the mode of fault slip, nature of earthquake stress drop, and earthquake nucleation. Laboratory-based rate- and state-dependent friction (RSF) laws can describe changes in fault strength during slip, but the connections between fault strength and the mechanisms that dictate the mode of failure, from aseismic creep to earthquake rupture, remain poorly understood. The empirical nature of RSF laws remains a drawback to their application in nature. Here we analyze an extensive data set of friction constitutive parameters with the goal of illuminating the microphysical processes controlling RSF. We document robust relationships between: (1) the initial value of sliding (or kinetic) friction, (2) RSF parameters, and (3) the time rates of frictional strengthening (aging). We derive a microphysical model based on asperity contact mechanics and show that these relationships are dictated by: (1) an activation energy that controls the rate of asperity growth by plastic creep, and (2) an inverse relationship between material hardness and the activation volume of plastic deformation. Collectively, our results illuminate the physics expressed by the RSF parameters, and which describe the absolute value of frictional strength and its dependence on time and slip rate. Moreover, we demonstrate that seismogenic fault behavior may be dictated by the interplay between grain properties and ambient conditions controlling the local shear strength of grain-scale asperity contacts.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Geochemistry and Petrology