Fault roughness constitutes a key element in the understanding of earthquake nucleation, and surficial asperities on the fault plane play a critical role in slip dynamics and frictional behavior during the seismic cycle. Since it is not generally feasible to recover fault roughness profiles or maps directly at the seismogenic sources, faults at the Earth’s surface are typically used as analogues. However, these analogue fault surfaces are often subjected to weathering and erosion, which in turn, reduces their representativeness as seismogenic faults. Rupture along active faults episodically exposes “fresh” fault planes at the Earth’s surface, which represent the best available targets for the evaluation of fault roughness generated at seismogenic depths.
Here we present a study conducted on a splay of the Mt. Vettore fault system in the Central Apennines, Italy, along a vertical transect that includes both a weathered and freshly exposed portion of the fault. The latter was exposed after the dramatic Mw 6.5 shock that hit the area on 30 October 2016. We have produced a highly detailed model (i.e., point cloud) of a section of the fault using structure from motion-multiview stereo photogrammetry to assess its roughness parameters (i.e., the Hurst fractal parameter) and to determine the extent to which these parameters are affected by weathering assuming that they had similar fractal characteristics when reaching the surface.
Our results show that weathering can modify the value of the fractal parameters. In particular, by independently analyzing different patches of the fault, we have observed that the smoother and recently exposed portions have an average Hurst exponent of 0.52 while the average Hurst exponent of zones with more prolonged exposure times is 0.64. Accordingly, we conclude that by using high-resolution point clouds, it is possible to recognize patches of faults having a similar intensity of deterioration attributable to weathering.