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  1. Abstract

    Earthquakes occur in clusters or sequences that arise from complex triggering mechanisms, but direct measurement of the slow subsurface slip responsible for delayed triggering is rarely possible. We investigate the origins of complexity and its relationship to heterogeneity using an experimental fault with two dominant seismic asperities. The fault is composed of quartz powder, a material common to natural faults, sandwiched between 760 mm long polymer blocks that deform the way 10 meters of rock would behave. We observe periodic repeating earthquakes that transition into aperiodic and complex sequences of fast and slow events. Neighboring earthquakes communicate via migrating slow slip, which resembles creep fronts observed in numerical simulations and on tectonic faults. Utilizing both local stress measurements and numerical simulations, we observe that the speed and strength of creep fronts are highly sensitive to fault stress levels left behind by previous earthquakes, and may serve as on-fault stress meters.

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  2. Abstract

    Fluid injection stimulates seismicity far from active tectonic regions. However, the details of how fluids modify on‐fault stresses and initiate seismic events remain poorly understood. We conducted laboratory experiments using a biaxial loading apparatus with a 3 m saw‐cut granite fault and compared events induced at different levels of background shear stress. Water was injected at 10 mL/min and normal stress was constant at 4 MPa. In all experiments, aseismic slip initiated on the fault near the location of fluid injection and dynamic rupture eventually initiated from within the aseismic slipping patch. When the fault was near critically stressed, seismic slip initiated only seconds after MPa‐level injection pressures were reached and the dynamic rupture propagated beyond the fluid pressure perturbed region. At lower stress levels, dynamic rupture initiated hundreds of seconds later and was limited to regions where aseismic slip had significantly redistributed stress from within the pressurized region to neighboring locked patches. We found that the initiation of slow slip was broadly consistent with a Coulomb failure stress, but that initiation of dynamic rupture required additional criteria to be met. Even high background stress levels required aseismic slip to modify on‐fault stress to meet initiation criteria. We also observed slow slip events prior to dynamic rupture. Overall, our experiments suggest that initial fault stress, relative to fault strength, is a critical factor in determining whether a fluid‐induced rupture will “runaway” or whether a fluid‐induced rupture will remain localized to the fluid pressurized region.

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  3. Abstract The interpretation of precursory seismicity can depend on a critical nucleation length scale h*, yet h* is largely unconstrained in the seismogenic crust. To estimate h* and associated earthquake nucleation processes at 2–7 km depths in Oklahoma, we studied seismic activity occurring prior to nine M 2.5–3.0 earthquakes that are aftershocks of the 3 September 2016 M 5.8 Pawnee, Oklahoma, earthquake. Four of the nine M 2.5–3.0 aftershocks studied did not have detectable seismicity within a 2 km radius of their hypocenters in the preceding 16 hr time windows. For the other five events, which did exhibit foreshock sequences, we estimated the static stress changes associated with each event of each sequence based on precise earthquake relocations and magnitude estimates. By carefully examining the spatiotemporal characteristics, we found all five of these M 2.5–3.0 aftershocks, and 70% of our studied events were plausibly triggered via static stress transfer from nearby earthquakes occurring hours to seconds earlier, consistent with the cascade nucleation model and a small h* in this region. The smallest earthquakes we could quantitatively study were M −1.5 events, which likely have 1–2 m rupture dimensions. The existence of these small events also supports a small nucleation length scale h*≤1  m, consistent with laboratory estimates. However, our observations cannot rule out more complicated earthquake initiation processes involving interactions between foreshocks and slow slip. Questions also remain as to whether aftershocks initiate differently from more isolated earthquakes. 
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