Dilatant strengthening as a mechanism for slow slip events

Paul Segall, Allan M. Rubin, Andrew M. Bradley, James R. Rice

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

302 Scopus citations


The mechanics of slow slip events (SSE) in subduction zones remain unresolved. We suggest that SSE nucleate in areas of unstable friction under drained conditions, but as slip accelerates dilatancy reduces pore pressure p quenching instability. Competition between dilatant strengthening and thermal pressurization may control whether slip is slow or fast. We model SSE with 2-D elasticity, rate-state friction, and a dilatancy law where porosity φ evolves toward steady state φss over distance dc and φss = φ0 + ε ln(v/v0); v is slip speed. We consider two diffusion models. Membrane diffusion (MD) is approximated by -(p - p)/tf where p and p are shear zone and remote pore pressure and tf is a characteristic diffusion time. Homogeneous diffusion (HD) accurately models fault-normal flow with diffusivity chyd. For MD, linearized analysis defines a boundary ε = 1 - a/b between slow and fast slip, where ε ≡ f 0ε/βb(σ - p), f0, a, and b are friction parameters and β is compressibility. When ε < 1 - a/b slip accelerates to instability for sufficiently large faults, whereas for ε > 1 - a/b slip speeds remain quasi-static. For HD, Ep εh/( β(σ - p)√v/c hyddc) defines dilatancy efficiency, where h is shear zone thickness and v is plate velocity. SSE are favored by large εh and low effective stress. The ratio Ep to thermal pressurization efficiency scales with 1/(σ - p), so high p favors SSE, consistent with seismic observations. For Ep ∼ 10-3 transient slip rates, repeat times, average slip, and stress drops are comparable to field observations. Model updip propagation speeds are comparable to those observed along-strike. Many simulations exhibit slow phases driven by steady downdip slip and faster phases that relax the accumulated stress. Model SSE accommodate only a fraction of plate motion; the remaining deficit must be accommodated during coseismic or postseismic slip.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberB12305
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 1 2010

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

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


Dive into the research topics of 'Dilatant strengthening as a mechanism for slow slip events'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this