Fluidization and melting of fault gouge during seismic slip: Identification in the Nojima fault zone and implications for focal earthquake mechanisms

Kenshiro Otsuki, Nobuaki Monzawa, Toshiro Nagase

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142 Citations (Scopus)


The record of physical processes that occur during seismic slip events is well preserved in fault rocks from the active Nojima fault in Japan. The fault rocks formed at about 3 km depth, and comprise thin alternating layers of very fine gouge and pseudotachylyte derived from granite. Each layer is thinner than a few millimeters, and corresponds to one seismic slip event. The very thin slip zone width suggests that some mechanisms of slip weakening operated, and our studies of the fault rocks suggest that fluidization and melting of gouge were particularly important. Fluidized and nonfluidized gouges were distinguished using the detection probability of fragmented counterparts method. It is known from granular material science that the phase transition from a grain friction regime to fluidization of granular materials can occur only by a very small decrease in volume fraction of solid grains. Once fluidization occurs, the frictional resistance decreases abruptly to nearly zero even before thermal pressurization reaches its extreme state. When fault gouge is melted, frictional resistance is governed by the viscosity of melt which depends mainly on temperature, chemical composition, H2O concentration and the volume fraction of unmelted grains. For each pseudotachylyte layer, we estimated the temperature of melt using various temperature indices, and measured volume fraction of unmelted grains. We synthesized these data to reconstruct the change in viscosity during seismic slip. events. The melt viscosity is very high (107-9 Pas) during initial melting due to the combined effect of low temperature (750°-800°C) and large volume fraction of solid grains. Thus seismic slip is inevitably restrained instantaneously. Once this mechanical barrier is overcome, the viscosity reduces continuously and dramatically as slip increases. At 1000°C, the viscosity reduces to 104Pas and eventually to 10Pas at 1280°C. Thus stress drops almost completely and rupturing tends to run away.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)ESE 4-1 - 4-18
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2003 Apr 10


  • Fault gouge
  • Fluidization
  • Frictional melting
  • Pseudotachylyte
  • Slip instability
  • Viscosity of melt


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