Earthquakes in the ductile regime?

B. E. Hobbs, A. Ord, C. Teyssier

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208 Scopus citations


Pseudotachylytes from a crustal scale shear zone in Central Australia have developed in a cyclical manner: once developed, an individual pseudotachylyte is deformed in a ductile manner, only to be overprinted at a later stage by a new generation of pseudotachylytes. Such cyclic generation and deformation of pseudotachylyte has been interpreted in the past as representing conditions at the brittleductile transition; a different interpretation, however, is presented here. It is proposed that psuedotachylytes and associated ultramylonites can develop entirely within the ductile regime as ductile instabilities. Such instabilities are different in nature to those previously discussed at length in the geophysical literature but are identical in principle with the instabilities that develop for velocity-weakening frictional behavior in spring-slider systems. At a given strain rate a critical temperature, Tc, is defined, at which the transient work hardening equals the product of stress relaxation due to a thermal fluctuation and the heat generated by shearing. A necessary condition for ductile instability at a given strain rate is that the temperature is below Tc; then the rate of change of stress with respect to strain is negative. An additional requirement is that this rate of change exceeds, in magnitude, the effective elastic stiffness of the loading system. Ductile instabilities are marginally possible at geological strain rates in quartzites but are possible at mid-crustal temperatures in other rock types. On the basis of these observations a new interpretation is presented for the base of the seismogenic zone in crustal regions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)309-336
Number of pages28
JournalPure and Applied Geophysics PAGEOPH
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - Jan 1986


  • Earthquakes
  • ductile instabilities
  • pseudotachylytes


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