Microscale characterization of rupture nucleation unravels precursors to faulting in rocks.
Published by: Renard, F., Cordonnier, B., Kobchenko, M., Kandula, N., Weiss, J., Zhu, W.
X-ray microtomography time-lapse 3D imaging of a growing fault into a Fontainebleau core sandstone.
Precursory signals, manifestations of microscale damage that precedes dynamic faulting, are key to earthquake forecasting and risk mitigation. Detections of precursors have primarily relied on measurements performed using sensors installed at some distance away from the rupture area in both field and laboratory experiments. Direct observations of continuous microscale damage accumulated during fault nucleation and propagation are scarce. Using an X-ray transparent triaxial deformation apparatus, we show the first quantitative high resolution three-dimensional (3D) information about damage evolution of rocks undergoing brittle failure. The dynamic microtomography images documented a spectrum of damage characteristics and different fault growth patterns. The interplay between various deformation mechanisms can result in either a positive, negative, or constant net volume change. Consequently, changes in rock density and acoustic wave velocities before faulting are expected to vary in different tectonics settings, hence making failure forecasting intrinsically dependent on rock type at depth.