An Insight into the Excavation-Induced Stress Paths on Mechanical Response of Weak Interlayer Zone in Underground Cavern Under High Geostress


A weak interlayer zone (WIZ) is a poor zonal geotechnical system with loose structure, weak mechanical properties, variable thickness, random distribution, and strong extension, that occurs between different rock strata (e.g., tuff and basalt), due to the intense tectonic movement, representing a potential threat to the overall stability of rock masses with WIZs in large underground cavern excavations. Focusing on the excavation-induced hazards in the weak interlayer zone (WIZ) occurring in underground cavern under high geostress, the mechanical response of WIZ under different loading and unloading stress paths has been well investigated and unearthed, by a series of automatic stress path controlled triaxial tests, as well as through scanning electron microscope (SEM) analysis. Results show that the mechanical characteristics of WIZ are closely related to the initial confining pressure and stress paths. Sudden increases in the circumferential strain and strong dilations of WIZ occur from the start of unloading, among which the unloading total strains are most strongly promoted by stress path II (i.e., axial pressure loading and confining pressure unloading), whereas the unloading stress path IV (i.e., axial pressure and confining pressure unloading) has the greatest promotion on enhancing the plastic volumetric dilatation. The deformation modulus and the Poisson’s ratio follow a deterioration law under the unloading process of confining pressure, and it is the unloading stress path II that most influences the damage of elastic parameters. The ultimate bearing strength, the internal friction angle, and the cohesion of WIZ appear extremely obvious degradation in course of unloading, among which the damage effect of stress path IV is the most remarkable. The macroscopic and mesoscopic analyses reveal that the failure mechanism of WIZ under complicated unloading stress paths lays in the accumulation and propagation of axial and circumferential cracks and fractures, as well as pervasive particle breakage, with the intergranular fractures, transcrystalline fractures, and the shear scratches on a meso level. The research could provide an effective basis and good lessons for the mechanical response and failure mechanism of WIZ under unloading stress paths in underground cavern under high geostress.

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\(A_{0}\), \(B_{0}\) :

Fitting parameters of deformation modulus damage

\(a_{0}\), \(b_{0}\), \(c_{0}\), \(d_{0}\) :

Fitting parameters of Poisson’s ratio damage

E :

Deformation modulus

H :

Unloading stress ratio

\(M\),\(N\) :

Parameters related to cohesion and internal friction angle

\(q\) :

Deviatoric stress

\(q_{{\text{u}}}\) :

Unloading ultimate bearing strength

\(\sigma_{1}\) :

Axial stress or maximum principal stress

\(\sigma_{2}\) :

Intermediate principal stress

\(\sigma_{3}\) :

Confining pressure or minimum principal stress

\(\Delta \sigma_{1}\) :

Axial or maximum principal stress increment

\(\Delta \sigma_{3}\) :

Confining pressure or minimum principal stress increment

\(\sigma_{3}^{0}\) :

Initial unloading confining pressure

\(\varepsilon_{1}\) :

Total axial strain

\(\varepsilon_{3}\) :

Total lateral strain

\(\varepsilon_{{\text{v}}}\) :

Total volumetric strain

\(\Delta \dot{\varepsilon }_{i}^{{\sigma_{3} }} \left( {i\, = \,1, \, 3, \, v} \right)\) :

Unloading strain ratio

\(\Delta \varepsilon_{i} \;\left( {i\, = \,1, \, 3, \, v} \right)\) :

Total axial, lateral, and volumetric stain increment

\(\dot{\varepsilon }_{1}^{{\text{p}}}\) :

Axial plastic strain increment

\(\dot{\varepsilon }_{3}^{{\text{p}}}\) :

Lateral plastic strain increment

\(\dot{\varepsilon }_{{\text{v}}}^{{\text{p}}}\) :

Volumetric plastic strain increment

\(\psi\) :

Dilatation angle

\(\gamma_{{\text{n}}}^{{\text{p}}}\) :

Normalized plastic shear strain increment

\(\gamma^{{\text{p}}}\) :

Plastic shear strain

\(\gamma_{\max }^{{\text{p}}}\) :

Ultimate plastic shear strain

μ :

Poisson’s ratio

\(\Delta E\) :

Deformation modulus increment

\(\Delta \mu\) :

Poisson’s ratio increment

\(\Delta \dot{E}\) :

Unloading deformation modulus deterioration ratio

\(\Delta \dot{\mu }\) :

Unloading Poisson's ratio deterioration ratio

\(c\) :


\(\varphi\) :

Internal friction angle


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The authors greatly acknowledge financial support from the National Natural Science Foundation of China (Grant nos. 51909241 and U1965205), Open Research Fund of State Key Laboratory of Geomechanics and Geotechnical Engineering, Institute of Rock and Soil Mechanics, Chinese Academy of Sciences (Grant no. Z017011), and the Scientific Research Key Project Fund of Colleges and Universities of Henan Province (Grant no. 19A560006). The authors wish to thank Prof. Xia-ting Feng for his kind scientific guidance. The authors also greatly appreciate the support from the Chinese Scholar Council (CSC).

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S-QD: investigation, formal analysis, and writing—original draft; QJ: conceptualization, methodology, and writing—review; G-FL: onsite investigation; J-CX and PG: laboratorial experiment; D-PX: experimental help; M-YL: date curation.

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Correspondence to Quan Jiang.

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Duan, SQ., Jiang, Q., Liu, GF. et al. An Insight into the Excavation-Induced Stress Paths on Mechanical Response of Weak Interlayer Zone in Underground Cavern Under High Geostress. Rock Mech Rock Eng (2021).

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  • Weak interlayer zone
  • High geostress
  • Unloading stress paths
  • Deformation and strength evolution
  • Dilatation
  • Failure mechanism