Slow slip forms part of the spectrum of fault behaviour between stable creep and destructive earthquakes. Slow slip occurs near the boundaries of large earthquake rupture zones and may sometimes trigger fast earthquakes. It is thought to occur in faults comprised of rocks that strengthen under fast slip rates, preventing rupture as a normal earthquake, or on faults that have elevated pore-fluid pressures. However, the processes that control slow rupture and the relationship between slow and normal earthquakes are enigmatic. Here we use laboratory experiments to simulate faulting in natural rock samples taken from shallow parts of the Nankai subduction zone, Japan, where very low-frequency earthquakes - a form of slow slip - have been observed. We find that the fault rocks exhibit decreasing strength over millimetre-scale slip distances rather than weakening due to increasing velocity. However, the sizes of the slip nucleation patches in our laboratory simulations are similar to those expected for the very low-frequency earthquakes observed in Nankai. We therefore suggest that this type of fault-weakening behaviour may generate slow earthquakes. Owing to the similarity between the expected behaviour of slow earthquakes based on our data, and that of normal earthquakes during nucleation, we suggest that some types of slow slip may represent prematurely arrested earthquakes.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Earth and Planetary Sciences(all)