Experimental frictional heating of coal gouge at seismic slip rates: Evidence for devolatilization and thermal pressurization of gouge fluids

Kieran O'Hara, Kazuo Mizoguchi, Toshihiko Shimamoto, James C. Hower

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

38 Scopus citations


High velocity (1 m/s) friction experiments on bituminous coal gouge display several earthquake-related phenomena, including devolatilization by frictional heating, gas pressurization, and slip weakening. Stage I is characterized by sample shortening and reduction in the coefficient of friction (μ) from ∼ 1 to 0.6. Stage II is characterized by high frequency (∼ 5 Hz) oscillations in stress and strain records and by gas emissions. Stage III is marked by rapid weakening (μ ∼ 0.1 to 0.35) and sample shortening, together with continued gas emissions. Stage IV produces stable stress records and continued weakness (μ ∼ 0.2), but without gas emission. Stage I shortening is due to compaction of the gouge and the weakening is attributed to mechanical or thermal effects. Stage II behavior is interpreted as due to coal gasification and fluctuations in fluid pressure, resulting in high frequency stick-slip type behavior. Dramatic reduction in shear stress in stage III is attributed to gas pressurization by pore collapse and corresponds to a frictional instability, analogous to nucleation of an earthquake. Microstructural observations indicate the deformation was brittle during stages I and II but ductile during stages III and IV. Time dependent finite element frictional heat models indicate the center of the samples became hot (∼ 900 °C) during stage II, whereas the edge of samples remained relatively cold (< 300 °C). Vitrinite reflectance of coal samples shows an increase in reflectance from ∼ 0.5 to ∼ 0.8% over the displacement interval 20-40 m (20-40 s), indicating that the reflectance responds to frictional heating on a short time scale. The energy expended per unit area in these low stress, large displacement experiments is similar to that of higher stress (∼ 50 MPa), short displacement (∼ 1 m) earthquakes (∼ 107 J/m2).

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)109-118
Number of pages10
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - Sep 19 2006

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The first author's visit to Kyoto was sponsored by the Japanese Society for Promotion of Science (JSPS). This work was also partially sponsored by a Grant-in-Aid for Research (16340129, JSPS) and by the 21st century COE program (Kyoto University, G3).


  • Devolatilization
  • Fault gouge
  • High-velocity friction
  • Slip weakening
  • Thermal pressurization

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geophysics
  • Earth-Surface Processes


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