Aftershock asymmetry on a bimaterial interface

Allan M. Rubin, Jean Paul Ampuero

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

77 Scopus citations


To better understand the asymmetric distribution of microearthquake aftershocks along the central San Andreas fault, we study dynamic models of slip-weakening ruptures on an interface separating differing elastic half-spaces. Subshear ruptures grow as slightly asymmetric bilateral cracks, with larger propagation velocities, slip velocities, and normal stress changes at the rupture front moving in the direction of slip of the medium with the lower shear wave speed (the southeast front, in the context of the San Andreas). When the SE front encounters a stress barrier, the tensile stress perturbation behind the rupture front continues forward and for a wide range of barrier strengths nucleates a dying slip pulse. This slip pulse smooths the stress field and reduces the static stress change beyond the SE front. Furthermore, because the tensile stress that carried the slip pulse into the barrier is a purely dynamic phenomenon, the SE rupture front can be left far below the failure threshold, while the NW front remains quite close to failure. Both mechanisms could contribute to the observed aftershock asymmetry. Formation of a robust slip pulse requires a peak tensile stress perturbation that approaches the nominal strength drop of the slip-weakening law. To achieve this while minimizing off-fault damage requires either substantial velocity contrasts or small reductions in friction. The simulations also show a pronounced asymmetry in the timescales over which barriers to the SE and NW experience increasing stresses, a result that has implications for the asymmetric distribution of subevents in compound earthquakes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberB05307
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 4 2007

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geophysics
  • Geochemistry and Petrology
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Space and Planetary Science


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