In the continental crust, faults may accommodate deformation through aseismic creep, slow slip events, or seismic slips that produce dynamic damage, or a combination of these endmembers. A variety of parameters controls the occurrence of these mechanical behaviors. In a series of laboratory experiments, we image centimeter-scale faults during sliding under in situ conditions. We perform four experiments of slip on centimeter-scale crystalline rock samples prepared with a saw-cut interface at 45° from the direction to the maximum compressive stress and at stress conditions of 2–3 km depth. We image fault slip and off-fault fracture development using 4D synchrotron X-ray microtomography. Three faults have an initial rough interface, and deformation occurs with increasing differential stress by a combination of slow slip events and off-fault damage, until catastrophic failure and the formation of new faults. Conversely, the pre-cut fault with a smooth initial surface deforms mainly by slow slip, develops numerous striations along its slip plane, and no microfractures are detected in the wall rock. Our experiments reproduce aseismic and seismic faulting behavior, and demonstrate that the roughness of the fault plane is one of the parameters that control the transition between these two behaviors. A fault with a rougher interface may tend to develop more off-fault damage and seismic behavior. For the rough fault experiments, the secondary faulting occurs along a network of faults oriented at high angles from the pre-existing saw-cut plane, a behavior similar to several earthquake sequences that occurred along orthogonal faults.
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