Identifying fault heterogeneity through mapping spatial anomalies in acoustic emission statistics


Seismicity clusters within fault zones can be connected to the structure, geometric complexity and size of asperities which perturb and intensify the stress field in their periphery. To gain further insight into fault mechanical processes, we study stick-slip sequences in an analog, laboratory setting. Analysis of small scale fracture processes expressed by acoustic emissions (AEs) provide the possibility to investigate how microseismicity is linked to fault heterogeneities and the occurrence of dynamic slip events. The present work connects X-ray computer tomography (CT) scans of faulted rock samples with spatial maps of b values (slope of the frequency-magnitude distribution), seismic moments and event densities. Our current experimental setup facilitates the creation of a series of stick-slips on one fault plane thus allowing us to document how individual stick-slips can change the characteristics of AE event populations in connection to the evolution of the fault structure. We found that geometric asperities identified in CT scan images were connected to regions of low b values, increased event densities and moment release over multiple stick-slip cycles. Our experiments underline several parallels between laboratory findings and studies of crustal seismicity, for example, that asperity regions in lab and field are connected to spatial b value anomalies. These regions appear to play an important role in controlling the nucleation spots of dynamic slip events and crustal earthquakes. Copyright 2012 by the American Geophysical Union.

Publication Title

Journal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth