Stability and localization of rapid shear in fluid-saturated fault gouge: 1. Linearized stability analysis

James R. Rice, John W. Rudnicki, John D. Platt*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

72 Scopus citations


Field observations of major earthquake fault zones show that shear deformation is often confined to principal slipping zones that may be of order 1-100 μm wide, located within a broader gouge layer of order 10-100mm wide. This paper examines the possibility that the extreme strain localization observed may be due to the coupling of shear heating, thermal pressurization, and diffusion. In the absence of a stabilizing mechanism shear deformation in a continuum analysis will collapse to an infinitesimally thin zone. Two possible stabilizing mechanisms, studied in this paper, are rate-strengthening friction and dilatancy. For rate-strengthening friction alone, a linear stability analysis shows that uniform shear of a gouge layer is unstable for perturbations exceeding a critical wavelength. Using this critical wavelength we predict a width for the localized zone as a function of the gouge properties. Taking representative parameters for fault gouge at typical centroidal depths of crustal seismogenic zones, we predict localized zones of order 5-40μm wide, roughly consistent with field and experimental observations. For dilatancy alone, linearized strain rate perturbations with a sufficiently large wavelength will undergo transient exponential growth before decaying back to uniform shear. The total perturbation strain accumulated during this transient strain rate localization is shown to be largely controlled by a single dimensionless parameter E, which is a measure of the dilatancy of the gouge material due to an increase in strain rate.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4311-4333
Number of pages23
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • strain localization
  • thermal pressurization

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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