Fault structure, frictional properties and mixed-mode fault slip behavior

Cristiano Collettini, André Niemeijer, Cecilia Viti, Steven A.F. Smith, Chris Marone

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

115 Scopus citations


Recent high-resolution GPS and seismological data reveal that tectonic faults exhibit complex, multi-mode slip behavior including earthquakes, creep events, slow and silent earthquakes, low-frequency events and earthquake afterslip. The physical processes responsible for this range of behavior and the mechanisms that dictate fault slip rate or rupture propagation velocity are poorly understood. One avenue for improving knowledge of these mechanisms involves coupling direct observations of ancient faults exhumed at the Earth's surface with laboratory experiments on the frictional properties of the fault rocks. Here, we show that fault zone structure has an important influence on mixed-mode fault slip behavior. Our field studies depict a complex fault zone structure where foliated horizons surround meter- to decameter-sized lenses of competent material. The foliated rocks are composed of weak mineral phases, possess low frictional strength, and exhibit inherently stable, velocity-strengthening frictional behavior. In contrast, the competent lenses are made of strong minerals, possess high frictional strength, and exhibit potentially unstable, velocity-weakening frictional behavior. Tectonic loading of this heterogeneous fault zone may initially result in fault creep along the weak and frictionally stable foliated horizons. With continued deformation, fault creep will concentrate stress within and around the strong and potentially unstable competent lenses, which may lead to earthquake nucleation. Our studies provide field and mechanical constraints for complex, mixed-mode fault slip behavior ranging from repeating earthquakes to transient slip, episodic slow-slip and creep events.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)316-327
Number of pages12
JournalEarth and Planetary Science Letters
Issue number3-4
StatePublished - Nov 15 2011

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

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


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