Fault zone restrengthening and frictional healing: The role of pressure solution

Hideaki Yasuhara, Chris Marone, Derek Elsworth

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147 Scopus citations


Laboratory and field observations note the significant role of strength recovery (healing) on faults during interseismic periods and implicate pressure solution as a plausible mechanism. Plausible rates for pressure solution to activate, and the magnitudes of ultimate strength gain, are examined through slide-hold-slide experiments using simulated quartz gouge. Experiments are conducted on fine-grained (110 μm) granular silica gouge, saturated with deionized water, confined under constant normal stress of 5 MPa and at modest temperatures of 20 and 65°C, and sheared at a maximum rate of 20 μm/s. Data at 20°C show a log linear relation between strength gain and the duration of holding periods, whereas the higher temperature observations indicate higher healing rates than the log linear dependencies; these are apparent for hold times greater than ∼1000 s. This behavior is attributed to the growth and welding of grain contact areas, mediated by pressure solution. The physical dependencies of this behavior are investigated through a mechanistic model incorporating the serial processes of grain contact dissolution, grain boundary diffusion, and precipitation at the rim of contacts. We use the model to predict strength gain for arbitrary conditions of mean stress, fluid pressure, and temperature. The strength gain predicted under the experimental conditions (σeff = 5 MPa and T = 65°C) underestimates experimental measurements for hold periods of less than ∼1000 s where other frictional mechanisms contribute to strength gain. Beyond this threshold, laboratory observations resemble the trend in the prediction by our mechanistic model, implicating that pressure solution is likely the dominant mechanism for strength gain. The model is applied to the long-term prediction of healing behavior in quartzite fault zones. Predictions show that both rates and magnitudes of gain in contact area increase with an increase in applied stresses and temperatures and that fault healing aided by pressure solution should reach completion within recurrence interval durations ranging from <1 to ∼104 years, depending on applied stresses, temperatures, and reaction rates.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberB06310
Pages (from-to)1-11
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 4 2005

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

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


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