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Mechanical behaviour of fluid-lubricated faults.

Cornelio, Chiara and Spagnuolo, Elena and Di Toro, Giulio and Nielsen, Stefan and Violay, Marie (2019) 'Mechanical behaviour of fluid-lubricated faults.', Nature communications., 10 . p. 1274.


Fluids are pervasive in fault zones cutting the Earth's crust; however, the effect of fluid viscosity on fault mechanics is mainly conjectured by theoretical models. We present friction experiments performed on both dry and fluid-permeated silicate and carbonate bearing-rocks, at normal effective stresses up to 20 MPa, with a slip-rate ranging between 10 μm/s and 1 m/s. Four different fluid viscosities were tested. We show that both static and dynamic friction coefficients decrease with viscosity and that dynamic friction depends on the dimensionless Sommerfeld number (S) as predicted by the elastohydrodynamic-lubrication theory (EHD).Under favourable conditions (depending on the fluid viscosity (η), co-seismic slip-rate (V), fault geometry (L/H02) and earthquake nucleation depth (∝σeff)), EHD might be an effective weakening mechanism during natural and induced earthquakes. However, at seismic slip-rate, the slip weakening distance (Dc) increases markedly for a range of fluid viscosities expected in the Earth, potentially favouring slow-slip rather than rupture propagation for small to moderate earthquakes.

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Date accepted:26 February 2019
Date deposited:22 March 2019
Date of first online publication:20 March 2019
Date first made open access:22 March 2019

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