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Flash Heating Leads to Low Frictional Strength of Crustal Rocks at Earthquake Slip Rates

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Science  14 Oct 2011:
Vol. 334, Issue 6053, pp. 216-218
DOI: 10.1126/science.1207902

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Abstract

The sliding resistance of faults during earthquakes is a critical unknown in earthquake physics. The friction coefficient of rocks at slow slip rates in the laboratory ranges from 0.6 to 0.85, consistent with measurements of high stresses in Earth’s crust. Here, we demonstrate that at fast, seismic slip rates, an extraordinary reduction in the friction coefficient of crustal silicate rocks results from intense “flash” heating of microscopic asperity contacts and the resulting degradation of their shear strengths. Values of the friction coefficient due to flash heating could explain the lack of an observed heat flow anomaly along some active faults such as the San Andreas Fault. Nearly pure velocity-weakening friction due to flash heating could explain how earthquake ruptures propagate as self-healing slip pulses.

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