Friction of sheared granular layers: Role of particle dimensionality, surface roughness, and material properties

Matthew Knuth, Chris Marone

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34 Scopus citations


We report on laboratory experiments designed to investigate three fundamental deformation mechanisms for frictional shear of granular fault gouge: sliding, rolling, and dilation. Mechanisms were isolated by shearing layers composed of rods in geometric configurations that resulted in one-dimensional, two-dimensional, and rolling-only particle interactions. Results of digital video are presented with measurements of friction and strain to illuminate the distribution of shear and the relationship between particle motions and friction. The double-direct-shear configuration was used with boundary conditions of constant layer normal stress (1 MPa) and controlled shear loading rate (10 μm/s) with initial layer thickness of 6 mm. Layers were sheared in a servo-hydraulic testing machine at room temperature (22°C) and relative humidity (5 to 10%). Three materials were studied: alloy 260 brass, dried semolina pasta, and hardwood dowels, with particle diameters of 1.59 mm, 1.86 mm, and 2.06 mm, respectively. Pasta layers had mean sliding friction coefficients of 0.24, 0.11, and 0.02 in 2-D, 1-D, and rolling configurations, respectively. Layers of brass rods had average friction coefficients of 0.23, 0.15, and 0.01, respectively, in 2-D, 1-D, and rolling configurations; and the wood samples exhibited friction values of 0.18, 0.19, and 0.09, respectively. Evolution of strength during shear correlated strongly with the displacement derivative of layer thickness. SEM images document the role of surface finish on frictional properties. Rapid reorientations of particles correspond to stick-slip stress drops and may be related to the collapse and reformation of granular force chains. We find a systematic relationship between the strength of granular layers and (1) the surface roughness of particles and (2) the number of particle contact dimensions. Our data provide important insights on the mechanics of granular fault gouge and constraints on the fundamental parameters used in numerical models of tectonic faulting.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberQ03012
JournalGeochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2007

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geophysics
  • Geochemistry and Petrology


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