Laboratory observations of slow earthquakes and the spectrum of tectonic fault slip modes

J. R. Leeman, D. M. Saffer, M. M. Scuderi, C. Marone

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

238 Scopus citations


Slow earthquakes represent an important conundrum in earthquake physics. While regular earthquakes are catastrophic events with rupture velocities governed by elastic wave speed, the processes that underlie slow fault slip phenomena, including recent discoveries of tremor, slow-slip and low-frequency earthquakes, are less understood. Theoretical models and sparse laboratory observations have provided insights, but the physics of slow fault rupture remain enigmatic. Here we report on laboratory observations that illuminate the mechanics of slow-slip phenomena. We show that a spectrum of slow-slip behaviours arises near the threshold between stable and unstable failure, and is governed by frictional dynamics via the interplay of fault frictional properties, effective normal stress and the elastic stiffness of the surrounding material. This generalizable frictional mechanism may act in concert with other hypothesized processes that damp dynamic ruptures, and is consistent with the broad range of geologic environments where slow earthquakes are observed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number11104
JournalNature communications
StatePublished - Mar 31 2016

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Chemistry(all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Physics and Astronomy(all)


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