Graphite as a lubricating agent in fault zones: An insight from low- to high-velocity friction experiments on a mixed graphite-quartz gouge


Corresponding author: K. Oohashi, Department of Earth Sciences, Graduate School of Science, Chiba University, Chiba 263-8522, Japan. (


[1] Graphite is a very low friction material, often enriched within fault zones due to mechanical or chemical processes. The effects of weak minerals on the strength of faults have been examined by friction experiments on bimineralic mixtures. However, previous experiments were conducted with limited shear strains, even though applied shear strains and textural developments had already been signaled as significant factors in the weakening of faults. We therefore conducted large-displacement, low- to high-velocity friction experiments with graphite-quartz gouges, to determine how much graphite is needed to reduce frictional strength, and to examine how textures contribute to the strength reduction of a mature fault at various slip rates. We found that the coefficients of friction of the gouges decrease nonlinearly with increasing graphite fraction for any given shear strain and slip rate, decreasing first with 5–20 vol% graphite, then reaching similar frictional levels to pure graphite with 30–50 vol% graphite. The nonlinear weakening trends can be fitted by sigmoidal curves. The weakening with 10–30 vol% graphite is associated with zones of slip-localization and the development of a graphite-lubricated penetrative slip surface(s). With increasing shear strain, the relationship between strength and graphite fraction evolves abruptly from an early gentle curve to a sigmoidal curve, and the frictional strength drops significantly even with small amounts of graphite (~10 vol%). Our results highlight the importance of shear strain and textural developments on weak faults, not only with respect to graphite, but also other fault lubricants such as the phyllosilicates.