pure and applied geophysics

, Volume 143, Issue 1–3, pp 425–456 | Cite as

Laboratory measurement of compaction-induced permeability change in porous rocks: Implications for the generation and maintenance of pore pressure excess in the crust

  • Christian David
  • Teng-Fong Wong
  • Wenlu Zhu
  • Jiaxiang Zhang
Rock Friction and Shear Zone Mechanics: Laboratory Studies


Permeability exerts significant control over the development of pore pressure excess in the crust, and it is a physical quantity sensitively dependent on the pore structure and stress state. In many applications, the relation between permeability and effective mean stress is assumed to be exponential and that between permeability and porosity is assumed to be a power law, so that the pressure sensitivity of permeability is characterized by the coefficient γ and the porosity sensitivity by the exponent α. In this study, we investigate experimentally the dependence of permeability on pressure and porosity in five sandstones with porosities ranging from 14% to 35% and we review published experimental data on intact rocks, unconsolidated materials and rock fractures. The laboratory data show that the pressure and porosity sensitivities differ significantly for different compaction mechanisms, but for a given compaction mechanism, the data can often be approximated by the empirical relations. The permeabilities of tight rocks and rock joints show relatively high pressure sensitivity and low porosity sensitivity. A wide range of values for α and γ have been observed in relation to the mechanical compaction of porous rocks, sand and fault gouge, whereas the porosity sensitivity for chemical compaction processes is often observed to be given by α≈3. We show that since the ratio γ/α corresponds to the pore compressibility, the different dependences of permeability on porosity and pressure are related to the pore structure and its compressibility. Guided by the laboratory data, we conduct numerical simulations on the development of pore pressure in crustal tectonic settings according to the models ofWalder andNur (1984) andRice (1992). Laboratory data suggest that the pressure sensitivity of fault gouge is relatively low, and to maintain pore pressure at close to the lithostatic value in the Rice model, a relatively high influx of fluid from below the seismogenic layer is necessary. The fluid may be injected as vertically propagating pressure pulses into the seismogenic system, andRice's (1992) critical condition for the existence of solitary wave is shown to be equivalent to α>1, which is satisfied by most geologic materials in the laboratory. Laboratory data suggest that the porosity sensitivity is relatively high when the permeability is reduced by a coupled mechanical and chemical compaction process. This implies that in a crustal layer, pore pressure may be generated more efficiently than cases studied byWalder andNur (1984) who assumed a relatively low porosity sensitivity of α=2.

Key words

Permeability compaction fluid pressure generation effective pressure fault mechanics fault hydraulics 


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Copyright information

© Birkhäuser Verlag 1994

Authors and Affiliations

  • Christian David
    • 1
  • Teng-Fong Wong
    • 1
  • Wenlu Zhu
    • 1
  • Jiaxiang Zhang
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Earth and Space SciencesState University of New York at Stony BrookStony BrookU.S.A.

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