Deterministic and stochastic chaos characterize laboratory earthquakes

A. Gualandi, D. Faranda, C. Marone, M. Cocco, G. Mengaldo

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5 Scopus citations


We analyze frictional motion for a laboratory fault as it passes through the stability transition from stable sliding to unstable motion. We study frictional stick-slip events, which are the lab equivalent of earthquakes, via dynamical system tools in order to retrieve information on the underlying dynamics and to assess whether there are dynamical changes associated with the transition from stable to unstable motion. We find that the seismic cycle exhibits characteristics of a low-dimensional system with average dimension similar to that of natural slow earthquakes (<5). We also investigate local properties of the attractor and find maximum instantaneous dimension ≳10, indicating that some regions of the phase space require a high number of degrees of freedom (dofs). Our analysis does not preclude deterministic chaos, but the lab seismic cycle is best explained by a random attractor based on rate- and state-dependent friction whose dynamics is stochastically perturbed. We find that minimal variations of 0.05% of the shear and normal stresses applied to the experimental fault influence the large-scale dynamics and the recurrence time of labquakes. While complicated motion including period doubling is observed near the stability transition, even in the fully unstable regime we do not observe truly periodic behavior. Friction's nonlinear nature amplifies small scale perturbations, reducing the predictability of the otherwise periodic macroscopic dynamics. As applied to tectonic faults, our results imply that even small stress field fluctuations (≲150 kPa) can induce coefficient of variations in earthquake repeat time of a few percent. Moreover, these perturbations can drive an otherwise fast-slipping fault, close to the critical stability condition, into a mixed behavior involving slow and fast ruptures.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number117995
JournalEarth and Planetary Science Letters
StatePublished - Feb 15 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geophysics
  • Geochemistry and Petrology
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Space and Planetary Science


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