Journal of Earth Science

, Volume 29, Issue 6, pp 1319–1334 | Cite as

Development and Evolution of the Size of Polygonal Fracture Systems during Fluid-Solid Separation in Clay-Rich Deposits

  • Teodolina LopezEmail author
  • Raphaël Antoine
  • José Darrozes
  • Michel Rabinowicz
  • David Baratoux
Geophysical Imaging from Subduction Zones to Petroleum Reservoirs


In continental and oceanic conditions, clay-rich deposits are characterised by the development of polygonal fracture systems (PFS). PFS can increase the vertical permeability of clay-rich deposits (mean permeability ≤10-16 m2) and are pathways for fluids. On continents, the width of PFS ranges from centimeters to hundreds of meters, while in oceanic contexts they are up to a few kilometres large. These structures are linked to water-solid separation during deposition, consolidation and complete fluid squeeze of the clay horizon. During the last few decades, modeling of melt migration in partially molten plastic rocks led to rigorous quantifications of two-phase flows with a particular emphasis on 2D and 3D induced flow structures. The numerical modeling shows that the melt migrates on distances at most equal to a few times the compaction length L that depends on permeability and viscosity. Consequently, polygonal structures in partially molten plastic rocks result from the melt-rock separation and their sizes are proportional to L. Applying these results to fluid-solid separation in clay-rich horizons, we show that (1) centimetric to kilometric PFS result from the dramatic increase of L during compaction and (2), this process involve agglomerates with 100 μm to 1 mm size.

Key words

compaction clay deposit agglomerates polygonal fractures desiccation cracks 


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This research has benefited from the support by the French Space Agency CNES, PNP (Programme National de Planétologie) and TOSCA (Terre, Océan, Surfaces continentales, Atmosphère). It has also benefited from the support of Commis sariat Général au Développement Durable (CGDD) from the French Ministry of Environment, as part of the CEREMA internal research project HYDROGEO. We thank two anonymous reviewers for their constructive criticisms which significantly improved the paper. We also want to thank David A. Yuen for his support and scientific discussions. The final publication is available at Springer via

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© China University of Geosciences and Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.CESBIO, Université de Toulouse, CNES/CNRS/IRD/UPSToulouseFrance
  2. 2.International Space Science Institute (ISSI)BernSwitzerland
  3. 3.CEREMA, Laboratoire Régional de Rouen, Groupe Sciences de la Terre, CS 90245Le Grand QuevillyFrance
  4. 4.GET, Université de Toulouse, UPS/CNRS/IRD/CNESToulouseFrance
  5. 5.Institut Fondamental d’Afrique Noire (IFAN)Cheikh Anta DioDakarSenegal

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