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Durham University

Department of Earth Sciences


Publication details for Professor Robert Holdsworth

Bullock, R.J., De Paola, N. & Holdsworth, R.E. (2015). An experimental investigation into the role of phyllosilicate content on earthquake propagation during seismic slip in carbonate faults. Journal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth 120(5): 3187-3207.

Author(s) from Durham


Carbonate faults commonly contain small amounts of phyllosilicate in their slip zones, due to
pressure solution and/or clay smear. To assess the effect of phyllosilicate content on earthquake propagation
in carbonate faults, friction experiments were performed at 1.3 m/s on end-members and mixtures of calcite,
illite-smectite, and smectite gouge. Experiments were performed at 9 MPa normal load, under room humidity
and water-saturated conditions. All dry gouges show initial friction values (μ
) of 0.51–0.58, followed by slip
hardening to peak values o f 0.61– 0.76. Slip weakening then ensues, with frictio n de creasing to steady state
values (μ
)of0.19–0.33 within 0.17–0.58 m of slip. Contrastingly, wet gouges containing 10–50 wt %
phyllosilicate exhibit μ
values between 0.07 and 0.52 followed by negligible or no slip hardening; rather,
steady state s liding (μ
≪ 0.2) is attained almost imme diately. Microstruc turally, dry gouges show intense
cataclasis and w ear within localized principal slip zones, plus evidence for thermal decomposition of
calcite. Wet gouges exh ib it distr ib uted defo rmation, less intens e cataclasis, and no evidenc e of thermal
decomposition. It is proposed that in wet gouges, slip is distributed across a network of w eak phyllosilicate
formed during axial loa ding compaction prio r to s hear. This explains the (1) subdued cataclasis a nd
associated lack of slip hardening, (2) distributed nature of deformation, and (3) lack of evidence for thermal
decomposition, due to low friction and lack of slip localization. These findings imply that just 10% phyllosilicate
in the slip zone of fluid-saturated carbonate fault s can (1) dramatical ly change their frictional behavior,
facilitating rupture propagation to the surface, and (2) significantly lower frictional heating, preventing
development of microscale seismic markers.