Micromechanics of brittle faulting and cataclastic flow in Berea sandstone
Abstract The micromechanics of failure in Berea sandstone were investigated by characterizing quantitatively the evolution of damage under the optical and scanning electron microscopes. Three series of triaxial compression experiments were conducted at the fixed pore pressure of 10 MPa and confining pressures of 20, 50 and 260 MPa, respectively, corresponding to three different failure modes: shear localization with positive dilatancy, shear localization with relatively little dilatancy and distributed cataclastic flow. To distinguish the effect of non-hydrostatic stress from that of hydrostatic pressure, a fourth suite of hydrostatically loaded samples was also studied. Using stereological procedures, we characterized quantitatively the following damage parameters: microcrack density and its anisotropy, pore-size distribution, comminuted volume fraction and mineral damage index. In the brittle regime, shear localization did not develop until the post-failure stage, after the peak stress had been attained. The microcrack density data show that very little intragranular cracking occurred before the peak stress was attained. We infer that dilatancy and acoustic emission activity in the prefailure stage are primarily due to intergranular cracking, probably related to the shear rupture of lithified and cemented grain contacts. Near the peak stress, intragranular cracking initiates from grain contacts and this type of Hertzian fracture first develops in isolated clusters, and their subsequent coalescence results in shear localization in the post-failure stage. The very high density of intragranular microcracking and pronounced stress-induced anisotropy in the post-failure samples are the consequence of shear localization and compactive processes operative inside the shear band. In contrast, Hertzian fracture was a primary cause for shear-enhanced compaction and strain hardening throughout the cataclastic flow regime. Grain crushing and pore collapse seem to be most intense in weakly cemented regions. Finite element simulations show that the presence of cement at grain contacts alleviates the tensile stress concentration, thus inhibiting the onset of Hertzian fracture and grain crushing.