Acoustic characterization of crack damage evolution in sandstone deformed under conventional and true triaxial loading

J. Browning*, P. G. Meredith, C. E. Stuart, D. Healy, S. Harland, T. M. Mitchell

*Corresponding author for this work

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85 Citations (Scopus)
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We present a comparative study of crack damage evolution in dry sandstone under both conventional (σ1 > σ2 = σ3), and true triaxial (σ1 > σ2 > σ3) stress conditions using results from measurements made on cubic samples deformed in three orthogonal directions with independently controlled stress paths. To characterize crack damage, we measured the changes in ultrasonic compressional and shear wave velocities in the three principal directions, together with the bulk acoustic emission (AE) output contemporaneously with stress and strain. We use acoustic wave velocities to model comparative crack densities and orientations. In essence, we create two end-member crack distributions; one displaying cylindrical transverse isotropy (conventional triaxial) and the other planar transverse isotropy (true triaxial). Under the stress conditions in our experiments we observed an approximately fivefold decrease in the number of AE events between the conventional and true triaxial cases. When taken together, the AE data, the velocities, and the crack density data indicate that the intermediate principal stress suppresses the total number of cracks and restricts their growth to orientations subnormal to the minimum principal stress. However, the size of individual cracks remains essentially constant, controlled by the material grain size. Crack damage is only generated when the differential stress exceeds some threshold value. Cyclic loading experiments show that further damage commences only when that previous maximum differential stress is exceeded, regardless of the mean stress, whether this is achieved by increasing the maximum principal stress or by decreasing the minimum principal stress.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4395-4412
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth
Issue number6
Early online date22 Jun 2017
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2017

Bibliographical note

We thank the Associate Editor, Michelle Cooke, and the reviewers, Ze'ev Reches and Yves Guéguen, for useful comments which helped to improve the manuscript. We thank J.G. Van Munster for providing access to the true triaxial apparatus at KSEPL and for technical support during the experimental program. We thank R. Pricci for assistance with technical drawings of the apparatus. This work was partly funded by NERC award NE/N002938/1 and by a NERC Doctoral Studentship, which we gratefully acknowledge. Supporting data are included in a supporting information file; any additional data may be obtained from J.B. (e-mail:


  • Acoustic
  • Crack
  • Damage
  • Elastic
  • Triaxial
  • Velocity


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