Frictional Heat and the Mechanics of Faults

Matthew A. d'Alessio
University of California, Berkeley
Ann Blythe
University of Southern California
Roland Burgmann
University of California, Berkeley


Motion along faults, regardless of their coefficient of friction, should release large amounts of energy. Laboratory experiments of sliding surfaces show that while some of the energy goes into mechanical processes (such as grain-size reduction) and the radiation of seismic waves, a large majority of it is dissipated as heat. Because many previous studies have looked for and not observed the expected frictional heat, there is significant debate about the mechanics of large faults in nature. Through both theoretical modeling and observations using low temperature thermochronology, we hope to constrain the amount of frictional heat generated by natural faults.

If we can constrain the amount of heat generated during fault slip, we can get valuable information about the earthquake rupture process.

Evidence for Frictional Heating in Exhumed Fault Zones
  • Summary
  • Detailed Overview
  • AGU 2000 Presentation
  • AGU 2001 Poster
  • Read our Geology Manuscript

  • Long Term Thermal History of an Active Fault, SAFOD Pilot Hole
  • Overview

  • Theoretical Modeling of Heat Generation by a Creeping Fault
  • Overview

  • Fun
  • Take the San Gabriel Fault Thin Section Quiz or
  • Skip the quiz and view all thin sections

  • Contact Us
    Questions? Comments!
  • Matthew d'Alessio
  • Roland Bürgmann
  • Ann Blythe

  • This project received support from the Geologic Society of America (for fieldwork on exhumed San Gabriel fault) and the EarthScope program of the National Science Foundation (geochronometry and thermal modeling of SAFOD samples and San Andreas fault) and has been conducted with resources from the University of California at Berkeley and the University of Southern California.