We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. You can change your cookie settings at any time. Otherwise, we'll assume you're OK to continue.

Durham University

Department of Earth Sciences


Publication details for Prof Stefan Nielsen

Cornelio, Chiara Spagnuolo, Elena Di Toro, Giulio Nielsen,Stefan & Violay, Marie (2019). Mechanical behaviour of fluid-lubricated faults. Nature Communications 10: 1274

Author(s) from Durham


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.