Velocity-weakening and -strengthening friction at single and multiasperity contacts with calcite single crystals

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Although earthquakes are one of the most notorious natural disasters, a full understanding of the underlying mechanisms is still lacking. Here, nanoscale friction measurements were performed by atomic force microscopy (AFM) on calcite single crystals with an oxidized silicon tip to investigate the influence of roughness, contact aging, and dry vs. aqueous environment. In dry environments, smooth and rough calcite surfaces yielding single- and multiasperity contacts, respectively, exhibit velocity-weakening (βDlnV ) or neutral friction at slow sliding velocities and velocity-strengthening friction (αDlnV ) at higher velocities, while the transition shifts to slower velocities with an increase in roughness. The origin of the velocity-weakening friction is determined to be contact aging resulting from atomic attrition of the crystalline surface. Friction measurements in aqueous environment show evidence of pressure solution at sufficiently slow sliding velocities, which not only significantly reduces friction on single-and multiasperity contacts but also, eliminates atomic attrition and thereby, velocity-weakening friction. Importantly, the friction scaling law evolves from logarithmic (βDlnV ) into linear (αPSV ), deviating from commonly accepted rate-and-state friction (RSF) laws; this behavior extends over a wider range of velocities with higher roughness. Above a transition velocity, the scaling law remains logarithmic (αW lnV ). The friction rate parameters αD, βD, αPS, and αW decrease with load and depend on roughness in a nonmonotonic fashion, like the adhesion, suggesting the relevance of the contact area. The results also reveal that parameters and memory distance differ in dry and aqueous environments, with implications for the understanding of mechanisms underlying RSF laws and fault stability.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2112505119
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number22
StatePublished - May 31 2022
Externally publishedYes


  • atomic force microscopy
  • calcite
  • contact aging
  • friction
  • rate-and-state friction law

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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