Characteristics of earthquake ruptures and dynamic off-fault deformation on propagating faults

Preuss, Simon; Ampuero, Jean Paul; Gerya, Taras; van Dinther, Ylona

Natural fault networks are geometrically complex systems that evolve through time. The evolution of faults and their off-fault damage patterns are influenced by both dynamic earthquake ruptures and aseismic deformation in the interseismic period. To better understand each of their contributions to faulting we simulate both earthquake rupture dynamics and long-term deformation in a visco-elasto-plastic crust subjected to rate- and state-dependent friction. The continuum mechanics-based numerical model presented here includes three new features. First, a 2.5-D approximation is created to incorporate the effects of a viscoelastic lower crustal substrate below a finite depth. Second, we introduce a dynamically adaptive (slip-velocity-dependent) measure of fault width to ensure grid size convergence of fault angles for evolving faults. Third, fault localization is facilitated by plastic strain weakening of bulk rate and state friction parameters as inspired by laboratory experiments. This allows us to simulate sequences of episodic fault growth due to earthquakes and aseismic creep for the first time. Localized fault growth is simulated for four bulk rheologies ranging from persistent velocity weakening to velocity strengthening. Interestingly, in each of these bulk rheologies, faults predominantly localize and grow due to aseismic deformation. Yet, cyclic fault growth at more realistic growth rates is obtained for a bulk rheology that transitions from velocity-strengthening friction to velocity-weakening friction. Fault growth occurs under Riedel and conjugate angles and transitions towards wing cracks. Off-fault deformation, both distributed and localized, is typically formed during dynamic earthquake ruptures. Simulated off-fault deformation structures range from fan-shaped distributed deformation to localized splay faults. We observe that the fault-normal width of the outer damage zone saturates with increasing fault length due to the finite depth of the seismogenic zone. We also observe that dynamically and statically evolving stress fields from neighboring fault strands affect primary and secondary fault growth and thus that normal stress variations affect earthquake sequences. Finally, we find that the amount of off-fault deformation distinctly depends on the degree of optimality of a fault with respect to the prevailing but dynamically changing stress field. Typically, we simulate off-fault deformation on faults parallel to the loading direction. This produces a 6.5-fold higher off-fault energy dissipation than on an optimally oriented fault, which in turn has a 1.5-fold larger stress drop. The misalignment of the fault with respect to the static stress field thus facilitates off-fault deformation. These results imply that fault geometries bend, individual fault strands interact, and optimal orientations and off-fault deformation vary through space and time. With our work we establish the basis for simulations and analyses of complex evolving fault networks subject to both long-term and short-term dynamics.

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Preuss, Simon / Ampuero, Jean Paul / Gerya, Taras / et al: Characteristics of earthquake ruptures and dynamic off-fault deformation on propagating faults. 2020. Copernicus Publications.

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