The seismic cycle requires that faults strengthen (heal) between earthquakes, and the rate of this healing process plays a key role in determining earthquake stress drop, rupture characteristics and seismic scaling relations. Frictional healing (as evidenced by increasing static friction during quasi-stationary contact between two surfaces is considered the mechanism most likely to be responsible for fault strengthening. Previous studies, however, have shown a large discrepancy between laboratory and seismic (field) estimates of the healing rate; in the laboratory, rock friction changes by only a few per cent per order-of-magnitude change in slip rate, whereas seismic stress drop increases by a factor of 2 to 5 per order- of-magnitude increase in earthquake recurrence interval. But in such comparisons, it is assumed that healing and static friction are independent of loading rate. Here, I summarize laboratory measurements showing that static friction and healing vary with loading rate and time, as expected from friction theory. Applying these results to seismic faulting and accounting for differences in laboratory, seismic and tectonic slip rates, I demonstrate that post-seismic healing is expected to be retarded for a period of several hundred days following an earthquake, in agreement with recent findings from repeating earthquakes.
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