Frictional melt and seismic slip



[1] Frictional melt is implied in a variety of processes such as seismic slip, ice skating, and meteorite combustion. A steady state can be reached when melt is continuously produced and extruded from the sliding interface, as shown recently in a number of laboratory rock friction experiments. A thin, low-viscosity, high-temperature melt layer is formed resulting in low shear resistance. A theoretical solution describing the coupling of shear heating, thermal diffusion, and extrusion is obtained, without imposing a priori the melt thickness. The steady state shear traction can be approximated at high slip rates by the theoretical form τss = σn1/4 (A/equation image) equation image under a normal stress σn, slip rate V, radius of contact area R (A is a dimensional normalizing factor and W is a characteristic rate). Although the model offers a rather simplified view of a complex process, the predictions are compatible with experimental observations. In particular, we consider laboratory simulations of seismic slip on earthquake faults. A series of high-velocity rotary shear experiments on rocks, performed for σn in the range 1–20 MPa and slip rates in the range 0.5–2 m s−1, is confronted to the theoretical model. The behavior is reasonably well reproduced, though the effect of radiation loss taking place in the experiment somewhat alters the data. The scaling of friction with σn, R, and V in the presence of melt suggests that extrapolation of laboratory measures to real Earth is a highly nonlinear, nontrivial exercise.