Beyond-laboratory-scale prediction for channeling flows through subsurface rock fractures with heterogeneous aperture distributions revealed by laboratory evaluation

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44 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

The present study evaluates aperture distributions and fluid flow characteristics for variously sized laboratory-scale granite fractures under confining stress. As a significant result of the laboratory investigation, the contact area in fracture plane was found to be virtually independent of scale. By combining this characteristic with the self-affine fractal nature of fracture surfaces, a novel method for predicting fracture aperture distributions beyond laboratory scale is developed. Validity of this method is revealed through reproduction of the results of laboratory investigation and the maximum aperture-fracture length relations, which are reported in the literature, for natural fractures. The present study finally predicts conceivable scale dependencies of fluid flows through joints (fractures without shear displacement) and faults (fractures with shear displacement). Both joint and fault aperture distributions are characterized by a scale-independent contact area, a scale-dependent geometric mean, and a scale-independent geometric standard deviation of aperture. The contact areas for joints and faults are approximately 60% and 40%. Changes in the geometric means of joint and fault apertures (μm), em, joint and em, fault, with fracture length (m), l, are approximated by em, joint = 1 × 102 l0.1 and em, fault = 1 × 103 l0.7, whereas the geometric standard deviations of both joint and fault apertures are approximately 3. Fluid flows through both joints and faults are characterized by formations of preferential flow paths (i.e., channeling flows) with scale-independent flow areas of approximately 10%, whereas the joint and fault permeabilities (m2), kjoint and kfault, are scale dependent and are approximated as kjoint = 1 × 10-12 l0.2 and kfault = 1 × 10-8 l1.1.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)106-124
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth
Volume120
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2015 Jan

Keywords

  • channeling flow
  • confining stress
  • fracture
  • permeability
  • scale dependency
  • shear displacement

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geophysics
  • Geochemistry and Petrology
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Space and Planetary Science

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