Fluid flow through rough fractures in rocks I: high resolution aperture determinations

Evgeny Isakov, Steven R. Ogilvie, Colin W. Taylor, Paul W. J. Glover

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

65 Citations (Scopus)


Full characterisation of rough fracture surfaces and the resulting variable apertures is an important step in the drive towards an improved understanding of the factors which control fluid flow through rocks. A number of surface profiling techniques exist, such as needle or laser profiling. However, these techniques are difficult and time consuming to apply to the total area of a fracture because they involve measuring a large number of parallel profiles, which are then difficult to align accurately. Hence, although a single profile may have high resolution in the z-direction and the direction of the profile, the fracture surface has a much lower resolution due to alignment errors. We have developed and improved considerably a previously existing optical concept for obtaining the topography of a fracture surface where the information about surface heights is measured simultaneously. The method relies on the construction of high fidelity transparent models of the fracture surface, which are imaged while covered with dyed and undyed water. The resulting images are converted to topography by a simple calibration procedure that makes use of the Lambert-Beer law. This method utilises in-house OptiProf(TM) software, which provides considerably more control over the imaging process than previous attempts at optical profiling. We have applied the technique to a range of rock fractures and test pieces, and have found the technique to work reliably, with lateral resolutions of 15 mum, and a vertical resolution of 15 mum, although all these could be improved by increasing the pixel count and the bit-depth of the camera, respectively. (C) 2001 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)267-282
Number of pages15
JournalEarth and Planetary Science Letters
Issue number3-4
Early online date13 Sept 2001
Publication statusPublished - 15 Sept 2001

Bibliographical note

This work was funded by the Natural Environmental Research Council of the UK, as part of the Micro-to-Macro Thematic Programme.[AC]


  • fluid dynamics
  • fractures
  • rocks
  • image analysis
  • physical models


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