Melting of fault gouge at shallow depth during the 2008 MW 7.9 Wenchuan earthquake, China

H. Wang, H. B. Li, G. Di Toro, L. W. Kuo, E. Spagnuolo, S. Aretusini, J. L. Si, S. R. Song

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Typical rocks at shallow depths of seismogenic faults are fluid-rich gouges. During earthquakes, on-fault frictional heating may trigger thermal pressurization and dynamic fault weakening. We show that frictional melting, rather than thermal pressurization, occurred at shallow depths during the 2008 MW 7.9 Wenchuan earthquake, China. One year after the Wenchuan earthquake, we found an ~2-mm-thick, glass-bearing pseudotachylyte (solidified frictional melt) in the fault gouges retrieved at 732.6 m depth from the first borehole of the Wenchuan Earthquake Fault Scientific Drilling Project. The matrix of pseudotachylyte is enriched in barium and cut by barite-bearing veins, which provide evidence of co and postseismic fluid percolation. Because pseudotachylyte can be rapidly altered in the presence of percolating fluids, its preservation suggests that gouge melting occurred in a recent large earthquake, possibly the Wenchuan earthquake. Rock friction experiments on fluid-rich fault gouges deformed at conditions expected for seismic slip at borehole depths showed the generation of pseudotachylytes. This result, along with the presence of a second slip zone attributed to the Wenchuan earthquake at 589.2 m depth, implies that during large earthquakes, frictional melting can occur at shallow depths and that seismic slip can be accommodated by multiple faults. This conclusion is consistent with the evidence from surface faulting that multiple ruptures propagated during the Wenchuan earthquake.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)345-350
Number of pages6
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2023


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