Abstract

We propose a fourth-order staggered-grid finite-difference method to study dynamic faulting in three dimensions. The method uses an implementation of the boundary conditions on the fault that allows the use of general friction models including slip weakening and rate dependence. Because the staggered-grid method defines stresses and particle velocities at different grid points, we preserve symmetry by implementing a two-grid-row “thick” fault zone. Slip is computed between points located at the borders of the fault zone, while the two components of shear traction on the fault are forced to be symmetric inside the fault zone. We study the properties of the numerical method comparing our simulations with well-known properties of seismic ruptures in 3D. Among the properties that are well modeled by our method are full elastic-wave interactions, frictional instability, rupture initiation from a finite initial patch, spontaneous rupture growth at subsonic and supersonic speeds, as well as healing by either stopping phases or rate-dependent friction. We use this method for simulating spontaneous rupture propagation along an arbitrarily loaded planar fault starting from a localized asperity on circular and rectangular faults. The shape of the rupture front is close to elliptical and is systematically elongated in the inplane direction of traction drop. This elongation is due to the presence of a strong shear stress peak that moves ahead of the rupture in the in-plane direction. At high initial stresses the rupture front becomes unstable and jumps to super-shear speeds in the direction of in-plane shear. Another interesting effect is the development of relatively narrow rupture fronts due to the presence of rate-weakening friction. The solutions for the “thick fault” boundary conditions scale with the slip-weakening distance (D0) and are stable and reproducible for D0 greater than about 4 in terms of 2Tu × Δx. Finally, a comparison of scalar and vector boundary conditions for the friction shows that slip is dominant along the direction of the prestress, with the largest deviations in slip-rate direction occurring near the rupture front and the edges of the fault.

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