Growth of ductile opening-mode fractures in geomaterials.

Rock Fracture Project, Department of Geological and Environmental Sciences, Stanford University, Stanford, California 94305

Abstract. Opening-mode fractures in clinker and opal-CT chert spheroids form by growth and coalescence of pores and are associated with extensive textural and compositional changes in the host material. Extensive inelastic deformation outside the immediate vicinity of fracture tips characterizes these fracture processes as ductile. Fracture formation in clinker is concurrent with high temperature combustion alteration of diatomaceous mudstone. Fracture formation in chert spheroids is associated with the opal-CT to quartz transition in the same host material during early marine diagenesis. In both cases, growth of elongate pores is attributed to the combined effects of diffusive fracture growth and flow by solution-precipitation creep. Pore growth and coalescence occur preferentially ahead of fracture tips along two directions oblique to the mean macroscopic fracture direction. This growth process, referred to as side-lobe damage, is interpreted to reflect the shear-stress dependence of pore growth by solution-precipitation creep. The tendency for oblique fracture growth is suppressed by global stress and strain boundary conditions forcing the fracture along a characteristic zig-zag propagation path that is macroscopically perpendicular to the loading direction. These examples of ductile fracture demonstrate that macroscopic fracture formation is not uniquely associated with damage processes by microfracture at low-temperature “brittle” subsurface conditions. Instead, fracture is a deformation process that can occur due to various inelastic deformation mechanisms under diverse crustal environments that include high-temperature conditions.