Fracture energy is a form of latent heat required to create an earthquake rupture surface and is related to parameters governing rupture propagation and processes of slip weakening1,2,3. Fracture energy has been estimated from seismological and experimental rock deformation data4,5,6,7,8, yet its magnitude, mechanisms of rupture surface formation and processes leading to slip weakening are not well defined8,9,10. Here we quantify structural observations of the Punchbowl fault, a large-displacement exhumed fault11,12 in the San Andreas fault system, and show that the energy required to create the fracture surface area in the fault is about 300 times greater than seismological estimates would predict for a single large earthquake. If fracture energy is attributed entirely to the production of fracture surfaces, then all of the fracture surface area in the Punchbowl fault could have been produced by earthquake displacements totalling <1 km. But this would only account for a small fraction of the total energy budget, and therefore additional processes probably contributed to slip weakening during earthquake rupture.
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We thank P. Spudich , T. Heaton and N. Beeler for discussions and review of an early version of this paper, and J. Jenson for advice regarding data analysis. The TEM work was performed in the Microscopy and Imaging Center of Texas A&M University and Z. Luo is acknowledged for his assistance. This research was supported by the Southern California Earthquake Center through a NSF and USGS Cooperative Agreement (J.S.C.), US National Science Foundation (J.S.C. and F.M.C.), and US Geological Survey (J.S.C.).
Reprints and permissions information is available at npg.nature.com/reprintsandpermissions. The authors declare no competing financial interests.
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