Shear heating in granular layers

K. Mair, C. Marone

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30 Scopus citations


Heat-flow measurements imply that the San Andreas Fault operates at lower shear stresses than generally predicted from laboratory friction data. This suggests that a dramatic weakening effect or reduced heat production occur during dynamic slip. Numerical studies intimate that grain rolling or localization may cause weakening or reduced heating, however laboratory evidence for these effects are sparse. We directly measure frictional resistance (μ), shear heating and microstructural evolution with accumulated strain in layers of quartz powder sheared at a range of effective stresses (Gn = 5-70 MPa) and sliding velocities (V = 0.01 - 10 mm/s). Tests conducted at Gn ≥ 25 MPa show strong evidence for shear localization due to intense grain fracture. In contrast, tests conducted at low effective stress (Gn = 5 MPa) show no preferential fabric development and minimal grain fracture hence we conclude that non-destructive processes such as grain rolling/sliding, distributed throughout the layer, dominate deformation. Temperature measured close to the fault increases systematically with Gn and V, consistent with a one-dimensional heat-flow solution for frictional heating in a finite width layer. Mechanical results indicate stable sliding (μ ∼ 0.6) for all tests, irrespective of deformation regime, and show no evidence for reduced frictional resistance at rapid slip or high effective stresses. Our measurements verify that the heat production equation (q = μσnV) holds regardless of localization state or fracture regime. Thus, for quasistatic velocities(V ≤10 mm/s) and effective stresses relevant to earthquake rupture, neither grain rolling/sliding or shear localization appear to be a viable mechanism for the dramatic weakening or reduced heating required to explain the heat flow paradox.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1847-1866
Number of pages20
JournalPure and Applied Geophysics
Issue number11-12
StatePublished - 2000

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geophysics
  • Geochemistry and Petrology


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