Insights into pulverized rock formation from dynamic rupture models of earthquakes
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© The Authors 2016. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of The Royal Astronomical Society. Pulverized rocks (PR) are extremely incohesive and highly fractured rocks found within the damage zones of several large strike-slip faults around the world. They maintain their crystal structure, show little evidence of shearing or chemical alteration, and are believed to be produced by strong tensile forces. Several mechanisms for pulverization have been proposed based on simple qualitative analyses or laboratory experiments under simplified loading conditions. Numerical modelling, however, can offer new insights into what is needed to produce PR and likely conditions of formation. We perform dynamic rupture simulations of different earthquakes, varying the magnitude, the slip distribution, and the rupture speed (supershear and subshear), while measuring the stresses produced away from the fault. To contextualize our results, a basic threshold of 10 MPa is set as the tensile strength of the rock mass and recordings are made of where, when, and by how much this threshold is exceeded for each earthquake type. Guided by field observations, we discern that a large (>Mw 7.1) subshear earthquake along a bimaterial fault produces a pulverized rock distribution most consistent with observations. The damage is asymmetric with the majority on the stiffer side of the fault extending out for several hundred metres. Within this zone there is a large and sudden volumetric expansion in all directions as the rupture passes. We propose that such an extreme tensile stress state, repeated for every earthquake, eventually produces the PR seen in the field.
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