On the possibility of elastic strain localisation in a fault

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The phenomenon of strain localisation is often observed in shear deformation of particulate materials, e.g., fault gouge. This phenomenon is usually attributed to special types of plastic behaviour of the material (e.g., strain softening or mismatch between dilatancy and pressure sensitivity or both). Observations of strain localisation in situ or in experiments are usually based on displacement measurements and subsequent computation of the displacement gradient. While in conventional continua the symmetric part of the displacement gradient is equal to the strain, it is no longer the case in the more realistic descriptions within the framework of generalised continua. In such models the rotations of the gouge particles are considered as independent degrees of freedom the values of which usually differ from the rotation of an infinitesimal volume element of the continuum, the latter being described for infinitesimal deformations by the non-symmetric part of the displacement gradient. As a model for gouge material we propose a continuum description for an assembly of spherical particles of equal radius in which the particle rotation is treated as an independent degree of freedom. Based on this model we consider simple shear deformations of the fault gouge. We show that there exist values of the model parameters for which the displacement gradient exhibits a pronounced localisation at the mid-layers of the fault, even in the absence of inelasticity. Inelastic effects are neglected in order to highlight the role of the independent rotations and the associated additional parameters. The localisation-like behaviour occurs if (a) the particle rotations on the boundary of the shear layer are constrained (this type of boundary condition does not exist in a standard continuum) and (b) the contact moment-or bending stiffness is much smaller than the product of the effective shear modulus of the granulate and the square of the width of the gouge layer. It should be noted however that the virtual work functional is positive definite over the range of physically meaningful parameters (here: contact stiffnesses, solid volume fraction and coordination number) so that strictly speaking we are not dealing with a material instability.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2309-2326
JournalPure and Applied Geophysics
Issue number11-12
Publication statusPublished - 2004

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