Journal Article Contact mechanism of a rock fracture subjected to normal loading and its impact on fast closure behavior during initial stage of fluid flow experiment

Li, Bo  ,  Zhao, Zhihong  ,  Jiang, Yujing  ,  Jing, Lanru

Fast closure of rock fractures has been commonly observed in the initial stage of fluid flow experiments at environmental temperatures under low or moderate normal stresses. To fully understand the mechanisms that drive this fast closure, the evolution of local stresses acting on contacting asperities on the fracture surfaces prior to fluid flow tests needs to be evaluated. In this study, we modeled numerically the asperity deformation and failure processes during initial normal loading, by adopting both elastic and elastic-plastic deformation models for the asperities on a real rock fracture with measured surface topography data, and estimated their impact on initial conditions for fluid flow test performed under laboratory conditions. Compared with the previous models that simulate the normal contact of a fracture as the approach of two rigid surfaces without deformations, our models of deformable asperities yielded smaller contact areas and higher stresses on contacting asperities at a given normal stress or normal displacement. The results show that the calculated local stresses were concentrated on the contacts of a few major asperities, resulting in crushing of asperity tips. With these higher contact stresses, however, the predicted closure rates by pressure solution are still several orders of magnitude lower than that of the experimental measurements at the initial stage of fluid flow test. This indicates that single pressure solution may not likely to be the principal compaction mechanism for this fast closure, and that the damages on contacting asperities that occur during the initial normal loading stage may play an important role.

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