Laboratory characterization of hydromechanical properties of a seismogenic normal fault system
The Stillwater seismogenic normal fault in Dixie Valley, Nevada has been historically active and is located in an area of high heat flow and hydrothermal activity. Three primary structural elements are identified in the fault zone: a relatively wide fault core (with breccia pods embedded in cataclasites), a damage zone (with arrays of mesoscopic fractures), and protolith. Hydromechanical properties of representative core samples were characterized in the laboratory, and microstructural analyses were conducted using optical and scanning electron microscopy. When deformed in conventional triaxial compression, dilatancy and brittle fracture were observed in each sample. Samples from the core of the fault were relatively weak, with strengths similar to that of unconsolidated fault gouge, whereas granodiorite samples from the protolith were as weak as the core and damage zone samples were stronger. Permeability is dependent on effective pressure, porosity and connectivity of the pore space, with values ranging over four orders of magnitude among the core samples. The lowest permeability of 3×10 -20 m 2 was measured in a fault core sample with a microstructure indicative of implosion brecciation. In conjunction with field measurements, the laboratory data suggest that fluid flow and changes in fluid storage are concentrated in the damage zone, with permeability several orders of magnitude higher than the protolith and fault core. Permeability contrast (one order of magnitude) at the core sample scale exists between the cataclasite and implosion breccia in the fault core. Because of dilatancy and poor drainage in the breccia pods, anomalously low pore pressures may develop in localized clusters due to dilatancy hardening during the preseismic period. These clusters of low pore pressure can act similarly to fault jogs, locally inhibiting fault rupture and inducing brecciation when the delayed failure finally occurs by catastrophic implosion.
Journal of Structural Geology
- Pub Date:
- July 1998