A review of mechanisms of induced earthquakes: from a view of rock mechanics

  • Jian-Qi Kang
  • Jian-Bo ZhuEmail author
  • Jian Zhao


The induced earthquake recently has gained an increasing public awareness of environmental and safety issue. The earthquakes associated with fluid injection and extraction, reservoir impoundment and mining/rock removal have been extensively reported. Here, we reviewed injection induced earthquakes and their mechanisms from a view of rock mechanics. This review begins by briefly introducing the classification and the state-of-the-art research of induced earthquakes. From a view of rock mechanics, three fundamental mechanisms of induced earthquakes, i.e., pore pressure increase, stress change, and change in coefficient of friction, are introduced in details. Firstly, we discussed pore pressure increase due to fluid injection and reservoir impoundment, and explained earthquakes caused by fluid injection and related to reservoirs according to the Mohr–Coulomb failure criterion and effective stress law in the saturated rock. Secondly, we discussed stress change resulting from fluid extraction, temperature change, reservoir loading and quarry unloading. Thirdly, we investigated factors determining coefficient of friction, i.e., mineralogy, fluid pressure and temperature. Moreover, it is a remarkable fact that additional physical or chemical effects of fluids may lead to weakening of materials in fault zones owing to stress corrosion and stable slip, according to the rate and state friction law. Finally, we summarized and compared mechanisms of induced earthquakes that occurred in a variety of past human activities and projects, and recommended future potential means and scopes to investigate the mechanism of induced earthquakes.


Induced earthquakes Stress Pore pressure Friction coefficient 

List of symbols

\(\sigma_{\theta }\)

Tangential stress


Radial stress

\(\sigma_{1} ,\sigma_{3}\)

Axial stress


Angle between the point on drilling wall and the \(\sigma_{1}\) axis


Pore pressure of the fracture opening initially


Tensile strength


Permeability coefficient


Pore pressure


Coefficient of consolidation




Coefficient of storage


Flow per unit width


Hydraulic gradient


Distance between the parallel plate


Fluid kinematic viscosity


Volume of the injected fluid,

\(Q_{stored }\)

Total fluid volume stored in the fracture


Fluid volume lost into the surrounding aquifer


Half-length of the fracture




Average rate of the injected fluid


Fluid-loss coefficient

\(h_{f} ,w\)

Average fracture length and width


Critical shear stress


Normal stress


Coefficient of friction




Biot–Willis coefficient


Poisson’s ratio


Reservoir volume




Specific heat of the rock




Net flux out of heat out of the reservoir


Coefficient of friction at a reference velocity \((V_{0} )\)




State variable


Critical displacement

a, b

Frictional parameters


Stiffness of the loading system


Critical fault stiffness


Shear strength



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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.State Key Laboratory of Hydraulic Engineering Simulation and Safety, School of Civil EngineeringTianjin UniversityTianjinChina
  2. 2.Department of Civil EngineeringMonash UniversityClaytonAustralia

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