Normal fault growth: Evolution of tipline shapes and slip distribution



Descriptions of the 3D geometry of ancient faults suggest that single, continuous normal faults have approximately elliptical tipline shapes, with (sub)horizontal major axes. However, many examples of normal faults are not continuous, but consist of distinct, overstepping segments. Individual segments may have complex shapes as well as a vertical height that exceeds the horizontal length. Where fault segments step laterally, their tiplines are relatively straight and steeply plunging. Tiplines in relays between vertically stepping normal fault segments are also relatively straight, but have a (sub)horizontal attitude. The fault shapes appear strongly related to the presence of neighboring faults and the positions of the fault segments relative to one another.

We evaluate these observations with quasi-static 3D boundary element models consisting of two frictionless, circular normal faults in a homogeneous, linearly-elastic medium, subjected to a uniform dip-slip stress drop. The local slip gradient at the fault tipline is used to calculate the propagation tendency. Mechanical interaction enhances fault propagation at levels where the faults underlap, but impede it where they overlap. For laterally echelon segments, the overlapped portion of the tipline is likely to become straighter, and approach parallelism with the slip vector. Such straight tiplines promote linkage of segments along a continuous line rather than at one or a few points. Also, the slip-parallel, steeply plunging attitude of the line of linkage tends to minimize kinematic constraints during simultaneous slip of adjacent segments. For vertically overlapping segments, horizontal relays are predicted. These relays are perpendicular to the slip vector and thus have a limited preservation potential.

These results suggest that normal faults may consist of a patchwork of segments, linked along lines parallel and perpendicular to the overall slip vector. Each segment in turn is likely to exist of a patchwork of smaller segments. Analysis of the propagation tendency suggests that the envelope of this whole patchwork of linked segments tends to re-establish a smooth elliptical tipline and a smooth distribution of total slip.


Stress Intensity Factor Normal Fault Energy Release Rate Propagation Tendency Fault Segment 
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© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2000

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Rock Fracture Project, Department of Geological and Environmental SciencesStanford UniversityStanfordUSA
  2. 2.Shell International Exploration & ProductionEPT-SGRijswijkThe Netherlands

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