In contrast to coseismic pulverization of crystalline rocks, observations of coseismic pulverization in porous sedimentary rocks in fault damage zones are scarce. Also, juxtaposition of stiff crystalline rocks and compliant porous rocks across a fault often yields an asymmetric damage zone geometry, with less damage in the more compliant side. In this study, we argue that such asymmetry near the sub-surface may occur because of a different response of lithology to similar transient loading conditions. Uniaxial unconfined high strain rate loadings with a split Hopkinson pressure bar were performed on dry and water saturated Rothbach sandstone core samples. Bedding anisotropy was taken into account by coring the samples parallel and perpendicular to the bedding. The results show that pervasive pulverization below the grain scale, such as observed in crystalline rock, does not occur in the sandstone samples for the explored strain rate range (60–150 s−1). Damage is mainly restricted to the scale of the grains, with intragranular deformation occurring only in weaker regions where compaction bands are formed. The presence of water and the bedding anisotropy mitigates the formation of compaction bands and motivates intergranular dilatation. The competition between inter- and intragranular damage during dynamic loading is explained with the geometric parameters of the rock in combination with two classic micromechanical models: the Hertzian contact model and the pore-emanated crack model. In conclusion, the observed microstructures can form in both quasi-static and dynamic loading regimes. Therefore caution is advised when interpreting the mechanism responsible for near-fault damage in sedimentary rock near the surface. Moreover, the results suggest that different responses of lithology to transient loading are responsible for sub-surface damage zone asymmetry.
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