The Effects of Shear Strain, Fabric, and Porosity Evolution on Elastic and Mechanical Properties of Clay-Rich Fault Gouge

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


The elastic and mechanical properties of fault gouge are key controls on fault zone stiffness, strength, damage, healing, and sliding stability. Clay minerals are prevalent in fault zones and have significant effects on friction, porosity, elastic properties, and shear fabric development. Although clay-rich gouges are well studied, the roles of porosity evolution and fabric formation in modulating elastic and mechanical properties are unclear. We have found that with progressive shear, the role of strain localization and fabric development may compete with densification to control the evolution of friction and elastic moduli. We report on a suite of double-direct shear experiments on synthetic gouge composed of 50% Ca-montmorillonite and 50% granular quartz at a normal stress of 25 MPa. We measure the coefficient of friction, porosity, P and S wave speeds, and bulk and shear moduli, and their evolution with shearing, to shear strains up to ~25. We find that the evolution of Vp, Vs, and elastic moduli are controlled by the interplay of porosity loss, shear fabric development, and particle contact stiffness. In general, Vp, Vs, and elastic moduli increase with shear strain and are accompanied by gradual densification and porosity loss. However, at intermediate shear strains (~2–8) a decrease in Vp, Vs, and elastic moduli is superimposed on this overall trend. Based on previous microstructural studies, we hypothesize that fabrics develop parallel to shear direction (perpendicular to wave propagation) over this range of strains, leading to reduced fault stiffness and competing with porosity loss as the dominant control on elastic properties.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)10968-10982
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 1 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

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


Dive into the research topics of 'The Effects of Shear Strain, Fabric, and Porosity Evolution on Elastic and Mechanical Properties of Clay-Rich Fault Gouge'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this