Anomalously low heat flow around active faults has been a recurrent subject of debate over past decades. We present a series of high-velocity friction experiments on gypsum rock cylinders showing that the temperature of the simulated fault plane is efficiently buffered due to large-scale endothermic dehydration reaction. The tests were performed at 1 MPa normal stress and a velocity of 1.3 m s−1, while measuring the temperature close to the sliding surface and the relative humidity around the sample. The temperature close to the sliding surface is remarkably stable at ∼100 °C during the dehydration reaction of gypsum. Microstructural and X-ray diffraction investigations show that dehydration occurs at the very beginning of the test, and progresses into the bulk as slip increases. In the hottest parts of the sample, anhydrite crystal growth is observed. The half-thickness of the dehydrated layer ranges from 160 μm at 2 m slip to 5 mm at 68 m slip. Thermodynamic estimates of the energy needed for the dehydration to occur yield values ranging from 10% to 50% of the total mechanical work input. The temperature plateau is thus well explained by the energy sink due to the dehydration reaction and the phase change from liquid water into steam. We suggest that similar endothermic reactions can efficiently buffer the temperature of fault zones during an earthquake. This is a way to explain the low heat flow around active faults and the apparent scarcity of frictional melts in nature.

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