How Do Earthquakes Stop? Insights From a Minimal Model of Frictional Rupture

Fabian Barras*, Kjetil Thøgersen, Einat Aharonov, François Renard

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The question “what arrests an earthquake rupture?” sits at the heart of any potential prediction of earthquake magnitude. Here, we use a one-dimensional, thin-elastic-strip, minimal model, to illuminate the basic physical parameters that may control the arrest of large ruptures. The generic formulation of the model allows for wrapping various earthquake arrest scenarios into the variations of two dimensionless variables (Figure presented.) (initial dimensionless stress parameter on the fault) and (Figure presented.) (dimensionless fracture energy), valid for both in-plane and antiplane shear loading. Our continuum model is equivalent to the standard Burridge-Knopoff model, with an added characteristic length scale, H, that corresponds to either the thickness of the damage zone for strike-slip faults or to the thickness of the downward moving plate for subduction settings. We simulate the propagation and arrest of frictional ruptures and derive closed-form expressions to predict rupture arrest under different conditions. Our generic model illuminates the different energy budget that mediates crack- and pulse-like rupture propagation and arrest. It provides additional predictions such as generic stable pulse-like rupture solutions, stress drop independence of the rupture size, the existence of back-propagating fronts, and predicts that asymmetric slip profiles arise under certain pre-stress conditions. These diverse features occur also in natural earthquakes, and the fact that they can all be predicted by a single minimal framework is encouraging and pave the way for future developments of this model.

Original languageAmerican English
Article numbere2022JB026070
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023. The Authors.


  • barriers
  • crack versus pulse
  • earthquake arrest
  • fault bends and step-overs
  • frictional rupture
  • triangular slip profile


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