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Ultra-thin clay layers facilitate seismic slip in carbonate faults

Luca Smeraglia, Andrea Billi, Eugenio Carminati, Andrea Cavallo, Giulio Di Toro, Elena Spagnuolo, Federico Zorzi
Scientific Reports 2017 April 6, 7 (1): 664
28386064
Many earthquakes propagate up to the Earth's surface producing surface ruptures. Seismic slip propagation is facilitated by along-fault low dynamic frictional resistance, which is controlled by a number of physico-chemical lubrication mechanisms. In particular, rotary shear experiments conducted at seismic slip rates (1 ms-1 ) show that phyllosilicates can facilitate co-seismic slip along faults during earthquakes. This evidence is crucial for hazard assessment along oceanic subduction zones, where pelagic clays participate in seismic slip propagation. Conversely, the reason why, in continental domains, co-seismic slip along faults can propagate up to the Earth's surface is still poorly understood. We document the occurrence of micrometer-thick phyllosilicate-bearing layers along a carbonate-hosted seismogenic extensional fault in the central Apennines, Italy. Using friction experiments, we demonstrate that, at seismic slip rates (1 ms-1 ), similar calcite gouges with pre-existing phyllosilicate-bearing (clay content ≤3 wt.%) micro-layers weaken faster than calcite gouges or mixed calcite-phyllosilicate gouges. We thus propose that, within calcite gouge, ultra-low clay content (≤3 wt.%) localized along micrometer-thick layers can facilitate seismic slip propagation during earthquakes in continental domains, possibly enhancing surface displacement.

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