Jean-Philippe Avouac photoJean-Philippe Avouac Professor of Geology:Director of the Tectonics Observatory:CaltechCaltech logo

Ge 277- ‘From rock mechanics to seismotectonics’

Winter Quarter 2005
Instructor: Jean-Philippe Avouac

Objective of seminar

Review major results form rock mechanics laboratory experiments and discuss how these results shed light on seismotectonics processes.


We will have 1-hour seminars. JPA will give the introduction seminar and the conclusion seminar. During other seminar volunteers will have to present selected papers (20 minutes per presentations). Each student will be asked to interact with JPA ahead of the presentation. The selected papers will be posted on JPA web’s page.

All students are required to have read, ahead of time, the papers to be presented at each seminar.


Wednesday, 12am-1pm.

Introduction on January 13.


A major goal in seismotectonics is to develop some mechanical model of fault behavior that would reproduce the various phase over the ‘seismic cycle’ (co-seismic rupture, afterslip and postseismic relaxation, interseismic stress and strain build up, preseismic deformation and nucleation). To build such a model some rheological laws, ie laws describing the relationship between stress and strain, accounting for the effect of temperature, pressure, lithology and fluids on deformation processes are needed.

When some stress is applied to a rock in nature or in the lab, a combination of elastic and inelastic deformation is induced. Inelastic deformation can be brittle or ductile. Brittle deformation is associated with dilatancy and ultimately results in fracture. Brittle deformation is inhibited a high pressure. Once a fracture is formed further deformation occurs by frictional sliding. Ductile deformation can result from various processes such as intra-crystalline diffusion of atoms or motion of dislocations, dissolution-precipitation. These processes are thermally activated. Fluids have an important influence on rock rheology both in the brittle and ductile regime.

In nature elastic, brittle and ductile processes are competing and will contribute to deformation to some variable degree depending on local conditions (P, T, lithology) and on the stage in the seismic cycle.

During the seminars we will review these processes, recall the basic laws inferred from laboratory experiments, and then discuss extrapolation to natural conditions. We will see that many aspect of the seismic cycle on a fault are reconcilable only to some extent with current understanding of rock rheology but that uncertainties are large because laboratory conditions are generally far from natural conditions (e.g., in rock friction experiments sliding velocities are several order of magnitude smaller than seismic rupture velocities; rock laboratory experiments on crystalline plasticity are conducted at much higher strain rates than what occurs in nature).

We will have seminars on the themes listed below. I indicate some papers that could be presented but I am open to other suggestions from the more general bibliography given below or even outside this list of references. This reference list is a mix of ‘old’ influential papers and more recent contributions. The number of seminars and the theme of each seminar will be adjusted according to the number of students participating to the seminar and to their range of interest.

1- Brittle deformation, friction laws and semi-brittle processes

Lockner, 1998; Marone, 1998; Scholz, 1998; Blanpied et al, 1991, 1995, Moore et al., 1997.

2-   Ductile Creep

Kohlstedt et al, 1995; Karato and Wu, 1993; Shimizu, 1995; Molnar, 1991; Hirth and Kolhstedt, 1996.

3- Static friction, fluids and crustal stress

Brudy et al, 1997; Townend and Zoback, 2000; Hardebeck and Hauksson 1999; Bollinger et al, 2004.

4- Seismicity and the depth dependent rheology of the lithosphere.

Chen and Molnar, 1983;  Sibson, 1982; Magistrale, 2002; Blanpied et al, 1991, 1995.

5- Fluids and seismicity.

Sibson, 1985; Sleep and Blanpied, 1992.

6- Friction laws and seismic rupture

Bouchon et al, 1998; Aochi et al, 2003; Guatteri and Spudich, 2000.

7- Postseismic relaxation, afterslip and lithosphere rheology.

Marone et al, 1991; Moresi, 2004; Perffetini and Avouac, 2004a; Khazaradze et al, 1998; Melbourne et al, 2002.

8- Afterschocks and triggered seismicity

King and Cocco, 2001; Dieterich, 1994; Deng et al, 1999; Bosl and Nur, 2002; Perfettini and Avouac, 2004a; Perfettini et al, 2003.

9- Rheological model of fault zones.

Sibson, 1982; Chester, 1995.

10- Observation and Models of the seismic cycle.

Chlieh et al, 2004; Tse and Rice, 1981; Hyndman et al, 1997, Perfettini and Avouac, 2004b.



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Scholz, C.H., The mechanics of earthquakes, 439 pp., Cambridge Universtity Press, Cambridge, 1990.

Turcotte, D.L., and G. Schubert, Geodynamics, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2002.

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Lliboutry, Very slow flow of solids,

Poirier, J.P., Creep of crystals, Cambridge University press, Cambridge, 1985,

Selection of papers

Aochi, H., R. Madariaga, and E. Fukuyama, Constraint of fault parameters inferred from nonplanar fault modeling, Geochemistry Geophysics Geosystems, 4, art. no.-1020, 2003.

Blanpied, M.L., D.A. Lockner, and J. Byerlee, An earthquake mechanism based on rapid sealing of faults, Nature, 358, 574-576, 1992.

Blanpied, M. L., D. A. Lockner, and J. D. Byerlee , Fault stability inferred from granite sliding experiments at hydrothermal conditions, Geophys. Res. Lett., 18, 609– 612, 1991.

Blanpied, M.L., D.A. Lockner, and J.D. Byerlee, Frictional Slip of Granite at Hydrothermal Conditions, Journal of Geophysical Research-Solid Earth, 100 (B7), 13045-13064, 1995.

Bollinger, L., J.P. Avouac, R. Cattin, and M.R. Pandey, Stress buildup in the Himalaya, J. Geophsy. Res., 109 (B11405), doi:10.129/2003JB002911, 2004.

Bouchon, M., M. Campillo, and F. Cotton, Stress field associated with the rupture of the 1992 Landers, California, earthquake and its implications concerning the fault strength at the onset of the earthquake, Journal of Geophysical Research-Solid Earth, 103 (B9), 21091-21097, 1998.

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Brace, W.F., and D.L. Kohlstedt, Limits on lithospheric stress imposed by laboratory experiments, Journal of Geophysical Research, 85 (NB11), 6248-6252, 1980.

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Burridge, R., and L. Knopoff, Model and theoretical seismicity, Bull. Seismol. Soc. Am., 57, 341–371, 1967.

Burgmann, R., P. Segall, M. Lisowski, and J. Svarc, Postseismic strain following the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake from GPS and leveling measurements, J. Geophys. Res., 102, 4933– 4955, 1997.

Byerlee, J., Friction of Rocks, Pure and Applied Geophysics, 116 (4-5), 615-626, 1978.

Chen, W.P., and P. Molnar, Focal Depths of Intracontinental and Intraplate Earthquakes and Their Implications for the Thermal and Mechanical-Properties of the Lithosphere, Journal of Geophysical Research, 88 (NB5), 4183-4214, 1983.

Chester, F. M., A rheologic model for wet crust applied to strike-slip faults, J. Geophys. Res., 100, 13,033–13,044, 1995.

Chlieh, M., J.B. de Chabalier, J.C. Ruegg, R. Armijo, R. Dmowska, J. Campos, and K.L. Feigl, Crustal deformation and fault slip during the seismic cycle in the North Chile subduction zone, from GPS and InSAR observations, Geophys. J. Int., 158, 695-711, 2004.

Deng, J.S., K. Hudnut, M. Gurnis, and E. Hauksson, Stress loading from viscous flow in the lower crust and triggering of aftershocks following the 1994 Northridge California, earthquake, Geophysical Research Letters, 26 (21), 3209-3212, 1999

Dragert, H., K. Wang and T.S. James, A silent slip event on the deeper Cascadia subduction interface, Science, 292, 1525-1528, 2001.

Dieterich, J. H., Earthquake nucleation on faults with rate- and state dependent strength, Tectonophysics, 211, 115– 134, 1992.

Dieterich, J. H., A constitutive law for rate of earthquake production and its application to earthquake clustering, J. Geophys. Res., 99, 2601– 2618, 1994..

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Dieterich, J. H., and B. Kilgore, Implications of fault constitutive properties for earthquake prediction, Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA., 93, 3787–3794. 1996.

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Guatteri, M., and P. Spudich, What can strong-motion data tell us about slip-weakening fault- friction laws?, Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America, 90 (1), 98-116, 2000.

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Hearn, E. H., R. Burgmann, and R. E. Reilinger, Dynamic of Izmit earthquake postseismic deformation and loading of the Duzce wearthquake hypocenter, Bull. Seismol. Soc. Am., 92, 172– 193, 2002.

Hernandez, B., F. Cotton, and M. Campillo, Contribution of radar interferometry to a two-step inversion of the kinematic process of the 1992 Landers earthquake, Journal of Geophysical Research-Solid Earth, 104 (B6), 13083-13099, 1999

Hirose, H., K. Hirahara, F. Kimata, N. Fujii and S. Miyazaki, A slow thrust slip event following the two 1996 Hyuganada earthquakes beneath the Bungo Channel, southwest Japan, Geophys. Res. Lett., 21, 3237-3240, 1999.

Hirth, G., and D.L. Kohlstedt, Water in the oceanic upper mantle : implications for rheology, melt extraction and the evolution of the lithosphere., Earth and Planetary Sciences Letters., 144, 93-108, 1996.

Hirth, G., C. Teyssier, and W.J. Dunlap, An evaluation of quartzite flow laws based on comparisons between experimentally and naturally deformed rocks, Int. J. Earth Sciences, 90, 77-87, 2001.

Hyndman, R.D., M. Yamano, and D.A. Oleskevich, The seismogenic zone of subduction thrust faults., The Island Arc, 85 (863-889), 1997.

Ito T., and M.D.  Zoback, Fracture permeability and in situ stress to 7 km depth in the KTB scientific drillhole, Geoph. Res. Lett., Vol. 27, No. 7, p: 1045-1048, 2000.

Kato, N. & Hirasawa, T. A model for possible crustal deformation prior to a coming large interplate earthquake in the Tokai District, Central Japan, Bull. Soc. Am., 86, 1401-1417, 1999.

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King G.C.P. and M. Cocco, Fault interaction by elastic stress changes: New clues from earthquake sequences, Advances in Geophysics, Vol. 44, 2001.

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Montési, L., Controls of shear zone rheology and tectonic loading on postseismic creep, Journal of Geophysical Research, 109, B10404, doi: 10/1029/2003JB002925, 2004.

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Perfettini, H. and J.P. Avouac, Stress transfer and strain rate variations during the seismic cycle, J. Geophys. Res., 109, No. B2, B06402, 10.1029/2003JB002917, 2004.

Perfettini, H. and J.P. Avouac, Postseismic relaxation driven by brittle creep: a possible mechanism to reconcile geodetic measurement and the decay rate of aftershocks, application to the Chichi earthquake, Taiwan, J. Geophys. Res., 109, No. B2, B02304, 10.1029/2003JB002488, 2004.

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