Seismic slip episodically occurring along shallow creeping faults in poorly lithified sediments represents an unsolved paradox, largely due to our poor understanding of the mechanics governing creeping faults and the lack of documented geological evidence showing how coseismic rupturing overprints creep in near-surface conditions. Here we describe the signature of seismic ruptures propagating along shallow creeping faults affecting unconsolidated forearc sediments. Field observations of deformation band–dominated fault zones show widespread foliated cataclasites in fault cores, locally overprinted by sharp slip surfaces decorated by thin (0.5–1.5 cm) black gouge layers (herein, black gouge). Compared to foliated cataclasites, black gouges have much lower grain size, porosity, and permeability. Moreover, they are characterized by distinct mineralogical assemblages compatible with high temperatures (180–200 °C) due to frictional heating during seismic slip. Foliated cataclasites were also produced by laboratory experiments performed on host sediments at subseismic slip rates (≤0.1 m/s), displaying high residual friction (µf = 0.65) and strain-hardening behavior. Black gouges were produced during experiments performed at seismic (1 m/s) slip rates, displaying low residual friction (µf = 0.3) due to dynamic weakening. Our results show that black gouges represent a potential diagnostic marker for seismic faulting in shallow creeping faults. These findings can help understanding the time-space partitioning between aseismic and seismic behavior of faults at shallow crustal levels.

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