Rocks and Water

Estimating stresses, fault friction and fluid pressure from topography and coseismic slip models -- AGU 2014 Presentation

For the AGU Fall Meeting 2014, Eric Hetland and I presented a summary of our recent work on stress and fault property estimation in seismically active areas with high topography. Much of this work is featured in a forthcoming Journal of Geophysical Research paper (focusing on the 2008 Wenchuan event).

Here is the slideshow:

Estimating stresses, fault friction and fluid pressure from topography and coseismic slip models

Richard Styron and Eric Hetland


Stress is a first-order control on the deformation state of the earth. However, stress is notoriously hard to measure, and researchers typically only estimate the directions and relative magnitudes of principal stresses, with little quantification of the uncertainties or absolute magnitude. To improve upon this, we have developed methods to constrain the full stress tensor field in a region surrounding a fault, including tectonic, topographic, and lithostatic components, as well as static friction and pore fluid pressure on the fault. Our methods are based on elastic halfspace techniques for estimating topographic stresses from a DEM, and we use a Bayesian approach to estimate accumulated tectonic stress, fluid pressure, and friction from fault geometry and slip rake, assuming Mohr-Coulomb fault mechanics. The nature of the tectonic stress inversion is such that either the stress maximum or minimum is better constrained, depending on the topography and fault deformation style. Our results from the 2008 Wenchuan event yield shear stresses from topography up to 20 MPa (normal-sinistral shear sense) and topographic normal stresses up to 80 MPa on the faults; tectonic stress had to be large enough to overcome topography to produce the observed reverse-dextral slip. Maximum tectonic stress is constrained to be >0.3 * lithostatic stress (depth-increasing), with a most likely value around 0.8, trending 90-110°E. Minimum tectonic stress is about half of maximum. Static fault friction is constrained at 0.1-0.4, and fluid pressure at 0-0.6 * total pressure on the fault. Additionally, the patterns of topographic stress and slip suggest that topographic normal stress may limit fault slip once failure has occurred. Preliminary results from the 2013 Balochistan earthquake are similar, but yield stronger constraints on the upper limits of maximum tectonic stress, as well as tight constraints on the magnitude of minimum tectonic stress and stress orientation. Work in progress on the Wasatch fault suggests that maximum tectonic stress may also be able to be constrained, and that some of the shallow rupture segmentation may be due in part to localized topographic loading. Future directions of this work include regions where high relief influences fault kinematics (such as Tibet).