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

Research & business

View Profile

Publication details

Kaneko, Y., Nielsen, S.B. & Carpenter, B.M. (2016). The onset of laboratory earthquakes explained by nucleating rupture on a rate-and-state fault. Journal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth 121(8): 6071-6091.

Author(s) from Durham


Precursory aseismic slip lasting days to months prior to the initiation of earthquakes has been inferred from seismological observations. Similar precursory slip phenomena have also been observed in laboratory studies of shear rupture nucleation on frictional interfaces. However, the mechanisms that govern rupture nucleation, even in idealized laboratory settings, have been widely debated. Here we show that a numerical model incorporating rate-and-state friction laws and elastic continuum can reproduce the behaviors of rupture nucleation seen in laboratory experiments. In particular, we find that both in laboratory experiments and simulations with a wide range of normal stresses, the nucleation consists of two distinct phases: initial slow propagation phase and faster acceleration phase, both of which are likely aseismic processes, followed by dynamic rupture propagation that radiates seismic waves. The distance at which the rupture transitions from the initial slow phase to the acceleration phase can be roughly predicted by a theoretical estimate of critical nucleation length. Our results further show that the critical nucleation length depends on the background loading rate. In addition, our analysis suggests that critical nucleation length and breakdown power derived from the Griffith crack energy balance control the scaling of nucleating ruptures. Moreover, the background loading rate and loading configuration significantly affect the rupture propagation speed. Furthermore, if the same nucleation mechanism applies to natural faults, the migration speed of foreshocks triggered by the propagation of slow rupture within the nucleation zone would depend on the effective normal stress and hence fluid pressure in the fault zone.