Abstract

Solidified frictional melts, or pseudotachylytes, are observed in exhumed faults from across the seismogenic zone. These unique fault rocks, and many experimental studies, suggest that frictional melting can be an important process during earthquakes. However, it remains unknown how melting affects the post-slip strength of the fault and why many exhumed faults do not contain pseudotachylyte. Analyses of triaxial stick-slip events on Westerly Granite (Rhode Island, USA) sawcuts at confining pressures from 50 to 400 MPa show evidence for frictional heating, including some events energetic enough to generate surface melt. Total and partial stress drops were observed with slip as high as 6.5 mm. We find that in dry samples following melt-producing stick slip, the shear failure strength increased as much as 50 MPa, while wet samples had <10 MPa strengthening. Microstructural analysis indicates that the strengthening is caused by welding of the slip surface during melt quenching, suggesting that natural pseudotachylytes may also strengthen faults after earthquakes. These results predict that natural pseudotachylyte will inhibit slip reactivation and possibly generate stress heterogeneities along faults. Wet samples do not exhibit melt welding, possibly because of thermal pressurization of water reducing frictional heating during slip.

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