A Supershear Transition Mechanism for Cracks

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Science  07 Mar 2003:
Vol. 299, Issue 5612, pp. 1557-1559
DOI: 10.1126/science.1080650

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Seismic data indicate that fault ruptures follow complicated paths with variable velocity because of inhomogeneities in initial stress or fracture energy. We report a phenomenon unique to three-dimensional cracks: Locally stronger fault sections, rather than slowing ruptures, drive them forward at velocities exceeding the shear wave speed. This supershear mechanism differentiates barrier and asperity models of fault heterogeneity, which previously have been regarded as indistinguishable. High strength barriers concentrate energy, producing potentially destructive pulses of strong ground motion.

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