Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting nature.com. You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Scale dependence of rock friction at high work rate

Abstract

Determination of the frictional properties of rocks is crucial for an understanding of earthquake mechanics, because most earthquakes are caused by frictional sliding along faults. Prior studies using rotary shear apparatus1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11,12,13 revealed a marked decrease in frictional strength, which can cause a large stress drop and strong shaking, with increasing slip rate and increasing work rate. (The mechanical work rate per unit area equals the product of the shear stress and the slip rate.) However, those important findings were obtained in experiments using rock specimens with dimensions of only several centimetres, which are much smaller than the dimensions of a natural fault (of the order of 1,000 metres). Here we use a large-scale biaxial friction apparatus with metre-sized rock specimens to investigate scale-dependent rock friction. The experiments show that rock friction in metre-sized rock specimens starts to decrease at a work rate that is one order of magnitude smaller than that in centimetre-sized rock specimens. Mechanical, visual and material observations suggest that slip-evolved stress heterogeneity on the fault accounts for the difference. On the basis of these observations, we propose that stress-concentrated areas exist in which frictional slip produces more wear materials (gouge) than in areas outside, resulting in further stress concentrations at these areas. Shear stress on the fault is primarily sustained by stress-concentrated areas that undergo a high work rate, so those areas should weaken rapidly and cause the macroscopic frictional strength to decrease abruptly. To verify this idea, we conducted numerical simulations assuming that local friction follows the frictional properties observed on centimetre-sized rock specimens. The simulations reproduced the macroscopic frictional properties observed on the metre-sized rock specimens. Given that localized stress concentrations commonly occur naturally, our results suggest that a natural fault may lose its strength faster than would be expected from the properties estimated from centimetre-sized rock samples.

This is a preview of subscription content

Access options

Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.

$32.00

All prices are NET prices.

Figure 1: Experimental system and results.
Figure 2: The friction coefficient as a function of the work rate.
Figure 3: Slip-dependent evolution of friction and local shear stress heterogeneity during experiments.
Figure 4: Comparison of experimental data and simulation results.

References

  1. Tsutsumi, A. & Shimamoto, T. High-velocity frictional properties of gabbro. Geophys. Res. Lett. 24, 699–702 (1997)

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  2. Goldsby, D. L. & Tullis, T. E. Low frictional strength of quartz rocks at subseismic slip rates. Geophys. Res. Lett. 29, 1844, http://dx.doi.org/10.1029/2002GL015240 (2002)

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  3. Goldsby, D. L. & Tullis, T. E. Flash heating leads to low frictional strength of crustal rocks at earthquake slip rates. Science 334, 216–218 (2011)

    CAS  Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  4. Di Toro, G., Goldsby, D. L. & Tullis, T. E. Friction falls towards zero in quartz rock as slip velocity approaches seismic rates. Nature 427, 436–439 (2004)

    CAS  Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  5. Di Toro, G. et al. Fault lubrication during earthquakes. Nature 471, 494–498 (2011)

    CAS  Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  6. Hirose, T. & Shimamoto, T. Growth of molten zone as a mechanism of slip weakening of simulated faults in gabbro during frictional melting. J. Geophys. Res. 110, B05202 (2005)

    ADS  Google Scholar 

  7. Han, R., Shimamoto, T., Hirose, T., Ree, J. H. & Ando, J. Ultralow friction of carbonate faults caused by thermal decomposition. Science 316, 878–881 (2007)

    CAS  Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  8. Han, R., Hirose, T. & Shimamoto, T. Strong velocity weakening and powder lubrication of simulated carbonate faults at seismic slip rates. J. Geophys. Res. 115, B03412 (2010)

    ADS  Google Scholar 

  9. Han, R., Hirose, T., Shimamoto, T., Lee, Y. & Ando, J. Granular nanoparticles lubricate faults during seismic slip. Geology 39, 599–602 (2011)

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  10. Nielsen, S., Di Toro, G., Hirose, T. & Shimamoto, T. Frictional melt and seismic slip. J. Geophys. Res. 113, B01308 (2008)

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  11. Reches, Z. & Lockner, D. A. Fault weakening and earthquake instability by powder lubrication. Nature 467, 452–455 (2010)

    CAS  Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  12. Mizoguchi, K. & Fukuyama, E. Laboratory measurements of rock friction at subseismic slip velocities. Int. J. Rock Mech. Min. Sci. 47, 1363–1371 (2010)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Brown, K. M. & Fialko, Y. ‘Melt welt’ mechanism of extreme weakening of gabbro at seismic slip rates. Nature 488, 638–641 (2012)

    CAS  Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  14. Ohnaka, M. & Shen, L. F. Scaling of the shear rupture process from nucleation to dynamic propagation: implications of geometric irregularity of the rupturing surfaces. J. Geophys. Res. 104, 817–844 (1999)

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  15. Dieterich, J. H. Preseismic fault slip and earthquake prediction. J. Geophys. Res. 83, 3940–3948 (1978)

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  16. Yoshida, S. & Kato, A. Single and double asperity failures in a large-scale biaxial experiment. Geophys. Res. Lett. 28, 451–454 (2001)

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  17. Beeler, N. M. et al. Observed source parameters for dynamic rupture with nonuniform initial stress and relatively high fracture energy. J. Struct. Geol. 38, 77–89 (2012)

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  18. McLaskey, G. C. & Kilgore, B. D. Foreshocks during the nucleation of stick-slip instability. J. Geophys. Res. 118, 2982–2997 (2013)

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  19. Fukuyama, E. et al. Large-scale Biaxial Friction Experiments using a NIED Large-Scale Shaking Table—Design of Apparatus and Preliminary Results. Report 81 of the National Research Institute for Earth Science and Disaster Prevention, 15–35, http://dil-opac.bosai.go.jp/publication/nied_report/PDF/81/81-3fukuyama.pdf (2014)

  20. Byerlee, J. D. Friction of rocks. Pure Appl. Geophys. 116, 615–626 (1978)

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  21. Lockner, D. A., Morrow, C., Moore, D. & Hickman, S. Low strength of deep San Andreas fault gouge from SAFOD core. Nature 472, 82–85 (2011)

    CAS  Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  22. Ujiie, K. et al. Low coseismic shear stress on the Tohoku-Oki megathrust determined from laboratory experiments. Science 342, 1211–1214 (2013)

    CAS  Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  23. Dieterich, J. H. in Earthquake Source Mechanics (eds Das, S., Boatwright, J. & Scholz, C. H. ) 37–47 (AGU, 1986)

  24. Dieterich, J. H. Earthquake nucleation on faults with rate- and state-dependent strength. Tectonophysics 211, 115–134 (1992)

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  25. McLaskey, G. C. & Lockner, D. A. Preslip and cascade processes initiating laboratory stick slip. J. Geophys. Res. 119, 6323–6336 (2014)

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  26. Bouchon, M. et al. Extended nucleation of the 1999 Mw 7.6 Izmit earthquake. Science 331, 877–880 (2011)

    CAS  Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  27. Bouchon, M., Durand, V., Marsan, D., Karabulut, H. & Schmittbuhl, J. The long precursory phase of most large interplate earthquakes. Nature Geosci. 6, 299–302 (2013)

    CAS  Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  28. Kato, A. et al. Propagation of slow slip leading up to the 2011 Mw 9.0 Tohoku-Oki earthquake. Science 335, 705–708 (2012)

    CAS  Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  29. Boneh, Y., Chang, J. C., Lockner, D. A. & Reches, Z. Evolution of wear and friction along experimental faults. Pure Appl. Geophys. 171, 3125–3141 (2014)

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  30. Boneh, Y., Sagy, A. & Reches, Z. Frictional strength and wear-rate of carbonate faults during high-velocity, steady-state sliding. Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. 381, 127–137 (2013)

    CAS  Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgements

We thank A. Schubnel and F. X. Passelègue for help with some of the experiments. We thank G. C. McLaskey for comments. Reviews by Z. Reches improved the manuscript. This study was supported by the NIED research project entitled “Development of monitoring and forecasting technology for crustal activity” and JSPS KAKENHI grant number 23340131.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Contributions

E.F., F.Y., K.M. and H.K. designed and developed the large-scale friction experiments. F.Y. performed the analysis of the experimental data and numerical modelling. S.T. analysed the collected gouge material. F.Y. wrote the manuscript, with contributions from E.F. and S.X. All authors contributed to the performance of the large-scale friction experiments.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Futoshi Yamashita.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

This file contains Supplementary Methods, Text and Data, Supplementary Tables 1-10, Supplementary Figures 1-12 and additional references. (PDF 15695 kb)

PowerPoint slides

Source data

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Yamashita, F., Fukuyama, E., Mizoguchi, K. et al. Scale dependence of rock friction at high work rate. Nature 528, 254–257 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature16138

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/nature16138

Further reading

Comments

By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.

Search

Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing