Fault zone dynamics hold the key to resolving many outstanding geophysical problems including the heat flow paradox, discrepancy between fault static and dynamic strength, and energy partitioning. Most fault zones that generate tectonic events are gouge filled and fluid saturated posing the need for formulating gouge-specific constitutive models that capture spatially heterogeneous compaction and dilation, non-monotonic rate dependence, and transition between localized and distributed deformation.
In this presentation, we focus primarily on elucidating microscopic underpinnings for shear banding and stick-slip instabilities in sheared saturated granular materials and explore their implications for earthquake dynamics. We use a non-equilibrium thermodynamics model, the Shear Transformation Zone theory, to investigate the dynamics of strain localization and its connection to stability of sliding in the presence and absence of pore fluids. We also consider the possible influence of self-induced mechanical vibrations as well as the role of external acoustic vibrations as analogue for triggering by a distant event. For the dry case, our results suggest that at low and intermediate strain rates, persistent shear bands develop only in the absence of vibrations. Vibrations tend to fluidize the granular network and de-localize slip at these rates. Stick-slip is only observed for rough grains and it is confined to the shear band. At high strain rates, stick-slip disappears and the different systems exhibit similar stress-slip response. Changing the vibration intensity, duration or time of application alters the system response and may cause long-lasting rheological changes. The presence of pore fluids modifies the stick slip pattern and may lead to both loss and development of slip instability depending on the value of the confining pressure, imposed strain rate and hydraulic parameters.
We analyze these observations in terms of possible transitions between rate strengthening and rate weakening response facilitated by a competition between shear induced dilation and acoustic compaction. We discuss the implications of our results on dynamic triggering, quiescence and strength evolution in gouge filled fault zones.