Source Mechanisms of Laboratory Earthquakes During Fault Nucleation and Formation

Thomas King* (Corresponding Author), Sergio Vinciguerra, Jodi Burgess, Philip Benson, Luca De Siena

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)
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Identifying deformation and pre‐failure mechanisms preceding faulting is key for fault mechanics and for interpreting precursors to fault rupture. This study presents the results of a new and robust derivation of first motion polarity focal mechanism solutions (FMS) applied to acoustic emission (AE). FMS are solved using a least squares minimization of the fit between projected polarity measurements and the deviatoric stress field induced by dilatational (T‐type), shearing (S‐type), and compressional (C‐type) sources. 4 × 10 cm cylindrical samples of Alzo Granite (AG, porosity <1%) and Darley Dale Sandstone (DDS, porosity ≈14%) underwent conventional triaxial tests in order to investigate the relationships between increasing confining pressure (5, 10, 20, and 40 MPa), deformation and failure mode, and role of microstructural features. Results highlight that S‐type events occur in very low numbers with poor spatial correlation to fault structure. Instead, deformation is driven by a complex interplay between compactant (C‐type) and dilatant (T‐type) regions of deformation. C‐type events are the earliest precursor related to crack nucleation and T‐type events mark new cracks opening, with the onset of fracture growth characterized by periodic cycles of coalescence. For AG a single sequence is able to lead to dynamic failure, while for DDS several cycles are needed for coalescence to take place due to the competition between dilatant and compactant deforming regions induced by multiple fracture nucleation sites. The occurrence of C‐ and S‐type events is also consistent with a quasi‐static premonitory phase, or foreshock, before a critical nucleation length allows the development of a planar localization
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere2020JB021059
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth
Issue number5
Early online date7 May 2021
Publication statusPublished - 7 May 2021

Bibliographical note

The authors thank Emily Butcher for sample preparation and Peter Ibemesi for assistance during the laboratory experiments. The authors greatly appreciate the efforts of one anonymous reviewer and Jessica McBeck in significantly improving the quality of this study.


  • acoustic emission
  • focal mechanism
  • fracture
  • precusory
  • rock deformation


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