Fault roughness and strength heterogeneity control earthquake size and stress drop

by Olaf Zielke, Martin Galis, P. Martin Mai
Year: 2017

Extra Information

Geophysical Research Letters. January 2017, Vol. 44, Issue 2, Pages 777-783.


An earthquake's stress drop is related to the frictional breakdown during sliding and constitutes a fundamental quantity of the rupture process. High‐speed laboratory friction experiments that emulate the rupture process imply stress drop values that greatly exceed those commonly reported for natural earthquakes. We hypothesize that this stress drop discrepancy is due to fault‐surface roughness and strength heterogeneity: an earthquake's moment release and its recurrence probability depend not only on stress drop and rupture dimension but also on the geometric roughness of the ruptured fault and the location of failing strength asperities along it. Using large‐scale numerical simulations for earthquake ruptures under varying roughness and strength conditions, we verify our hypothesis, showing that smoother faults may generate larger earthquakes than rougher faults under identical tectonic loading conditions. We further discuss the potential impact of fault roughness on earthquake recurrence probability. This finding provides important information, also for seismic hazard analysis.