Subduction megathrust slip speeds range from slow creep at plate convergence rates (centimetres per year) to seismic slip rates (metres per second) in the largest earthquakes on Earth. The deformation mechanisms controlling whether fast slip or slow creep occurs, however, remain unclear. Here, we present evidence that pressure solution creep (fluid-assisted stress driven mass transfer) is an important deformation mechanism in megathrust faults. We quantify megathrust strength using a laboratory-constrained microphysical model for fault friction, involving viscous pressure solution and frictional sliding. We find that at plate-boundary deformation rates, aseismic, frictional-viscous flow is the preferred deformation mechanism at temperatures above 100 °C. The model thus predicts aseismic creep at temperatures much cooler than the onset of crystal plasticity, unless a boundary condition changes. Within this model framework, earthquakes may nucleate when a local increase in strain rate triggers velocity-weakening slip, and we speculate that slip area and event magnitude increase with increasing spacing of strong, topographically derived irregularities in the subduction interface.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Earth and Planetary Sciences(all)