Physical models of earthquake instability and precursory processes

John W. Rudnicki*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Scopus citations


This paper selectively reviews physical models of earthquake instability. In these models, instability arises as a result of interaction of a fault constitutive relation with deformation of the surrounding material that occurs in response to remote tectonic loading. In contrast to kinematic models in which the fault slip is imposed, it is calculated in physical models and, consequently, these models are essential for understanding precursory processes. Some kind of 'weakening' behavior for the fault constitutive relation is required to produce an instability analogous to an earthquake. Two commonly employed idealizations discussed here are rate-independent slip weakening and rate/state-dependent friction. When these constitutive models are employed on surfaces embedded in elastic half-spaces or layers, possibly coupled to a viscoelastic substrate, the results are capable of simulating realistically some aspects of earthquake occurrence. Common to all models is the prediction that earthquake instability is preceded by precursory slip which produces a departure of surface strain-rate from the background level. Near the epicenter of a moderate to large earthquake, the magnitude of this departure appears to be well within the range of current geodetic measurement accuracy, and its duration is of the order of months to years. However, details depend on a variety of factors, including the modelling of the constitutive relation near peak stress, coupling of elastic crust to the asthenosphere, and coupling of deformation with pore fluid diffusion.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)531-554
Number of pages24
JournalPure and Applied Geophysics PAGEOPH
Issue number2-4
StatePublished - Jun 1988
Externally publishedYes


  • Earthquakes
  • faulting
  • friction
  • instability
  • prediction

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geophysics
  • Geochemistry and Petrology


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