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Unstable Slip Pulses and Earthquake Nucleation as a Non-Equilibrium First-Order Phase Transition

Type of publication Peer-reviewed
Publikationsform Original article (peer-reviewed)
Author Brener E.A., Aldam M., Barras F., Molinari J. F., Bouchbinder E.,
Project Contact mechanics of rough surfaces
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Original article (peer-reviewed)

Journal Physical Review Letters
Volume (Issue) 121(23)
Page(s) 234302
Title of proceedings Physical Review Letters


The onset of rapid slip along initially quiescent frictional interfaces, the process of `earthquake nucleation', and dissipative spatiotemporal slippage dynamics play important roles in a broad range of physical systems. Here we first show that interfaces described by generic friction laws feature stress-dependent steady-state slip pulse solutions, which are unstable in the quasi-1D approximation of thin elastic bodies. We propose that such unstable slip pulses of linear size L∗ and characteristic amplitude are `critical nuclei' for rapid slip in a non-equilibrium analogy to equilibrium first-order phase transitions, and quantitatively support this idea by dynamical calculations. We then perform 2D numerical calculations that indicate that the nucleation length L∗ exists also in 2D, and that the existence of a fracture mechanics Griffith-like length LG