Seismic precursors linked to super-critical fluids at oceanic transform faults.

Geli, Louis, Piau, Jean-Michel, Dziak, Robert, Maury, Vincent, Fitzenz, Delphine, Coutellier, Quentin and Henry, Pierre (2014) Seismic precursors linked to super-critical fluids at oceanic transform faults. Nature Geoscience, 7 (10). pp. 757-761. DOI 10.1038/NGEO2244.

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Large earthquakes on mid-ocean ridge transform faults are commonly preceded by foreshocks1, 2, 3 and changes in the seismic properties of the fault zone3. These seismic precursors could be linked to fluid-related processes2, 3. Hydrothermal fluids within young, hot crust near the intersection of oceanic transform faults are probably in a supercritical condition4. At constant temperature, supercritical fluids become significantly more compressible with decreasing pressure, with potential impacts on fault behaviour. Here we use a theoretical model to show that oceanic transform faults can switch from dilatant and progressive deformation to rupture in response to fluid-related processes. We assume that the fault core material behaves according to a Cam-clay-type5 constitutive law, which is commonly used to account for the behaviour of clays. According to our model, we find that the fault is initially stable, with stresses gradually increasing over a timescale of years in response to tectonic loading. The fault evolves into a metastable phase, lasting a few days, during which the fault rocks dilate and pore pressures decrease, causing the compressibility of the supercritical fluids to increase. This in turn triggers fault-slip instability that creates foreshock swarms. In the final phase, the fault fails in the mainshock rupture. Our results imply that seismic precursors are caused by changes in fluid pressure which result in variations in fluid compressibility, in response to rock deformation just before rupture.

Document Type: Article
Refereed: Yes
Open Access Journal?: No
Publisher: Nature Publishing Group
Related URLs:
Projects: FLOWS
Date Deposited: 19 Nov 2014 11:15
Last Modified: 24 Jul 2015 11:27

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