Earthquakes occur along faults in response to plate tectonic movements, but paradoxically, are not widely recognized in the geological record, severely limiting our knowledge of earthquake physics and hampering accurate assessments of seismic hazard. Light-reflective (so-called mirror like) fault surfaces are widely observed geological features, especially in carbonate-bearing rocks of the shallow crust. Here we report on the occurrence of mirror-like fault surfaces cutting dolostone gouges in the Italian Alps. Using friction experiments, we demonstrate that the mirror-like surfaces develop only at seismic slip rates (∼1 m/s) and for applied normal stresses and sliding displacements consistent with those estimated on the natural faults. Under these experimental conditions, the frictional power density dissipated in the samples is comparable to that estimated for natural earthquakes (1–10 MW/m2). Our results indicate that mirror-like surfaces in dolostone gouges are a signature of seismic faulting, and can be used to estimate power dissipation during ancient earthquake ruptures.

You do not have access to this content, please speak to your institutional administrator if you feel you should have access.