Tectonic faults fail in a continuum of modes from slow earthquakes to elastodynamic rupture. Precursory variations in elastic wavespeed and amplitude, interpreted as indicators of imminent failure, have been observed in limited natural settings and lab experiments where they are thought to arise from contact rejuvenation and microcracking within and around the fault zone. However, the physical mechanisms and connections to fault creep are poorly understood. Here we vary loading stiffness during frictional shear to generate a range of slip modes and measure fault zone properties using transmitted elastic waves. We find that elastic wave amplitudes show clear changes before fault failure. The temporal onset of amplitude reduction scales with lab earthquake magnitude and the magnitude of this reduction varies with fault slip. Our data provide clear evidence of precursors to lab earthquakes and suggest that continuous seismic monitoring could be useful for assessing fault state and seismic hazard potential.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Earth and Planetary Sciences(all)