Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Earthquakes generate big heat in super-small areas

14.10.2011
In experiments mimicking the speed of earthquakes, geophysicists at Brown University detail a phenomenon known as flash heating.

They report in a paper published in Science that because fault surfaces touch only at microscopic, scattered spots, these contacts are subject to intense stress and extreme heating during earthquakes, lowering their friction and thus the friction of the fault. The localized, intense heating can occur even while the temperature of the rest of the fault remains largely unaffected.


Hitting the high points
Computer-simulated topography shows high points — asperities (in red) — on the rock surface. When in contact with asperties on the adjacent surface, these asperities may undergo intense flash heating in an earthquake. Credit: Mark Robbins and Sangil Hyun, Johns Hopkins University

Most earthquakes that are seen, heard, and felt around the world are caused by fast slip on faults. While the earthquake rupture itself can travel on a fault as fast as the speed of sound or better, the fault surfaces behind the rupture are sliding against each other at about a meter per second.

But the mechanics that underlie fast slip during earthquakes have eluded scientists, because it’s difficult to replicate those conditions in the laboratory. “We still largely don’t understand what is going at earthquake slip speeds,” said David Goldsby, a geophysicist at Brown, “because it’s difficult to do experiments at these speeds.”

Now, in experiments mimicking earthquake slip rates, Goldsby and Brown geophysicist Terry Tullis show that fault surfaces in earthquake zones come into contact only at microscopic points between scattered bumps, called asperities, on the fault. These tiny contacts support all the force across the fault. The experiments show that when two fault surfaces slide against other at fast slip rates, the asperities may reach temperatures in excess of 2,700 degrees Fahrenheit, lowering their friction, the scientists write in a paper published in Science. The localized, intense heating can occur even while the temperature of the rest of the fault remains largely unaffected, a phenomenon known as flash heating.

“This study could explain a lot of the questions about the mechanics of the San Andreas Fault and other earthquakes,” said Tullis, professor emeritus of geological sciences, who has studied earthquakes for more than three decades.

Hitting the high points

Computer-simulated topography shows high points — asperities (in red) — on the rock surface. When in contact with asperties on the adjacent surface, these asperities may undergo intense flash heating in an earthquake.

Credit: Mark Robbins and Sangil Hyun, Johns Hopkins UniversityThe experiments simulated earthquake speeds of close to half a meter per second. The rock surfaces touched only at the asperities, each with a surface area of less than 10 microns — a tiny fraction of the total surface area. When the surfaces move against each other at high slip rates, the experiments revealed, heat is generated so quickly at the contacts that temperatures can spike enough to melt most rock types associated with earthquakes. Yet the intense heat is confined to the contact flashpoints; the temperature of the surrounding rock remained largely unaffected by these microscopic hot spots, maintaining a “room temperature” of around 77 degrees Fahrenheit, the researchers write.

“You’re dumping in heat extremely quickly into the contacts at high slip rates, and there’s simply no time for the heat to get away, which causes the dramatic spike in temperature and decrease in friction,” Goldsby said.

“The friction stays low so long as the slip rate remains fast,” said Goldsby, associate professor of geological sciences (research). “As slip slows, the friction immediately increases. It doesn’t take a long time for the fault to restrengthen after you weaken it. The reason is the population of asperities is short-lived and continually being renewed, and therefore at any given slip rate, the asperities have a temperature and therefore friction appropriate for that slip rate. As the slip rate decreases, there is more time for heat to diffuse away from the asperities, and they therefore have lower temperature and higher friction.”

Flash heating and other weakening processes that lead to low friction during earthquakes may explain the lack of significant measured heat flows along some active faults like the San Andreas Fault, which might be expected if friction was high on faults during earthquakes. Flash heating in particular may also explain how faults rupture as “slip pulses,” wrinkle-like zones of slip on faults, which would also decrease the amount of heat generated.

If that is the case, then many earthquakes have been misunderstood as high-friction events. “It’s a new view with low dynamic friction. How can it be compatible with what we know?” asked Tullis, who chairs the National Earthquake Prediction Evaluation Council, an advisory body for the U.S. Geological Survey.

“Flash heating may explain it,” Goldsby replied.

The U.S. Geological Survey funded the research.

Editors: Brown University has a fiber link television studio available for domestic and international live and taped interviews, and maintains an ISDN line for radio interviews. For more information, call (401) 863-2476.

Richard Lewis | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.brown.edu

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht Smaller, more frequent eruptions affect volcanic flare-ups
12.10.2018 | Michigan Technological University

nachricht A new global marine environmental forecasting system will serve the public soon
01.10.2018 | Institute of Atmospheric Physics, Chinese Academy of Sciences

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Storage & Transport of highly volatile Gases made safer & cheaper by the use of “Kinetic Trapping"

Augsburg chemists present a new technology for compressing, storing and transporting highly volatile gases in porous frameworks/New prospects for gas-powered vehicles

Storage of highly volatile gases has always been a major technological challenge, not least for use in the automotive sector, for, for example, methane or...

Im Focus: Disrupting crystalline order to restore superfluidity

When we put water in a freezer, water molecules crystallize and form ice. This change from one phase of matter to another is called a phase transition. While this transition, and countless others that occur in nature, typically takes place at the same fixed conditions, such as the freezing point, one can ask how it can be influenced in a controlled way.

We are all familiar with such control of the freezing transition, as it is an essential ingredient in the art of making a sorbet or a slushy. To make a cold...

Im Focus: Micro energy harvesters for the Internet of Things

Fraunhofer IWS Dresden scientists print electronic layers with polymer ink

Thin organic layers provide machines and equipment with new functions. They enable, for example, tiny energy recuperators. In future, these will be installed...

Im Focus: Dynamik einzelner Proteine

Neue Messmethode erlaubt es Forschenden, die Bewegung von Molekülen lange und genau zu verfolgen

Das Zusammenspiel aus Struktur und Dynamik bestimmt die Funktion von Proteinen, den molekularen Werkzeugen der Zelle. Durch Fortschritte in der...

Im Focus: Dynamics of individual proteins

New measurement method allows researchers to precisely follow the movement of individual molecules over long periods of time

The function of proteins – the molecular tools of the cell – is governed by the interplay of their structure and dynamics. Advances in electron microscopy have...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

5th International Conference on Cellular Materials (CellMAT), Scientific Programme online

02.10.2018 | Event News

Major Project: The New Silk Road

01.10.2018 | Event News

"Boston calling": TU Berlin and the Weizenbaum Institute organize a conference in USA

21.09.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

Physics: Not everything is where it seems to be

15.10.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

Microfluidic molecular exchanger helps control therapeutic cell manufacturing

15.10.2018 | Life Sciences

Link between Gut Flora and Multiple Sclerosis Discovered

15.10.2018 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>