Nanoscale Damage Production by Dynamic Tensile Rupture in alpha-Quartz

MG Guren and HA Sveinsson and A Malthe-Sorenssen and F Renard, GEOPHYSICAL RESEARCH LETTERS, 49, e2022GL100468 (2022).

DOI: 10.1029/2022GL100468

The creation of new fractures during an earthquake produces rock damage and contributes to the dissipation of strain energy. During dynamic rupture propagation, tensile microfractures can form in the earthquake process zone and in the domains around a fault that host large transient tensile stress. These microfractures can produce rock fragments with a wide range of sizes. Using molecular dynamics simulations, we model tensile rupture propagation in alpha-quartz under conditions of stress that occur during earthquake propagation. Our results show that for rupture speeds below 15% of the Rayleigh wave speed, fractures propagate linearly. At higher speeds, fracture propagation undergoes path instabilities with crack oscillations and microbranching leading to the formation of nanoscale roughness and fragments. This nanoscale damage can form in and around the earthquake process zone before any significant slip has occurred on the fault. The produced nanoparticles may control further energy dissipation during frictional slip.

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