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The effect of water on stress relaxation of faulted and unfaulted sandstone


A series of stress relaxation experiments have been carried out on faulted and intact Tennessee sandstone to explore the influence of pore water on strength at different strain rates. Temperatures employed were 20, 300 and 400°C, effective confining pressure was 1.5 kb and strain rates as low as 10−10 sec−1 were achieved. Most samples were prefaulted at 2.5 kb confining pressure and room temperature. This is thought to have secured a reproducible initial microstructure.

The strength of the dry rock was almost totally insensitive to strain rate in the range 10−4 to 10−10 sec−1. In contrast, the strength of the wet rock decreased rapidly with strain rate at rates less than 10−6 sec−1. Brittle fracture of the quartz grains which constitute this rock is the most characteristic mode of failure under the test conditions used.

The experimental data are discussed in terms of the possible deformation rate controlling processes, and it is suggested that in the wet experiments at intermediate to high strain rates (10−7 to 10−4 sec−1) the observed deformation rate is controlled by the kinetics of water assisted stress corrosion, whilst deformation at low strain rates (ca. 10−9 sec−1) is controlled by a pressure solution process.

The results have implications for the rheology of fault rocks at depths of perhaps 10 to 15 km in sialic crust.

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Rutter, E.H., Mainprice, D.H. The effect of water on stress relaxation of faulted and unfaulted sandstone. PAGEOPH 116, 634–654 (1978).

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Key words

  • Strength of rocks
  • Crack growth with water
  • Rock mechanics