Physicochemical processes of frictional healing: Effects of water on stick-slip stress drop and friction of granular fault gouge

Marco M. Scuderi, Brett M. Carpenter, Chris Marone

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

53 Scopus citations


Understanding the micromechanical processes that dictate the evolution of fault strength during the seismic cycle is a fundamental problem in earthquake physics. We report on laboratory experiments that investigate the role of water during repetitive stick-slip frictional sliding, with particular emphasis on the grain-scale and atomic-scale mechanisms of frictional restrengthening (healing). Our experiments are designed to test underlying concepts of rate and state friction laws. We sheared layers of soda-lime glass beads in a double direct shear configuration at a constant normal stress of 5 MPa. Shear stress was applied via a constant displacement rate from 0.3 to 300 μm/s. During each experiment, relative air humidity (RH) was kept constant at values of 5, 50, or 100%. Our data show a systematic increase in maximum friction (μmax), stick-slip friction drop (Δμ), and frictional healing rate, with increasing RH. The highest values of interevent dilation occur at 100% RH. Postexperiment scanning electron microscope observations reveal details of contact junction processes, showing a larger grain-to-grain contact area at higher RH. We find that the evolution of contact area depends inversely on slip velocity and directly on RH. Our results illuminate the fundamental processes that dictate stick-slip frictional sliding and provide important constraints on the mechanisms of rate and state friction.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4090-4105
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2014

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

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


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