pure and applied geophysics

, Volume 163, Issue 5–6, pp 995–1019 | Cite as

Fracture in Westerly Granite under AE Feedback and Constant Strain Rate Loading: Nucleation, Quasi-static Propagation, and the Transition to Unstable Fracture Propagation

  • Ben D. ThompsonEmail author
  • R. Paul Young
  • David A. Lockner


New observations of fracture nucleation are presented from three triaxial compression experiments on intact samples of Westerly granite, using Acoustic Emission (AE) monitoring. By conducting the tests under different loading conditions, the fracture process is demonstrated for quasi-static fracture (under AE Feedback load), a slowly developing unstable fracture (loaded at a `slow' constant strain rate of 2.5 × 10−6 /s) and an unstable fracture that develops near instantaneously (loaded at a `fast' constant strain rate of 5 × 10−5 /s). By recording a continuous ultrasonic waveform during the critical period of fracture, the entire AE catalogue can be captured and the exact time of fracture defined. Under constant strain loading, three stages are observed: (1) An initial nucleation or stable growth phase at a rate of ~ 1.3 mm/s, (2) a sudden increase to a constant or slowly accelerating propagation speed of ~ 18 mm/s, and (3) unstable, accelerating propagation. In the ~ 100 ms before rupture, the high level of AE activity (as seen on the continuous record) prevented the location of discrete AE events. A lower bound estimate of the average propagation velocity (using the time-to-rupture and the existing fracture length) suggests values of a few m/s. However from a low gain acoustic record, we infer that in the final few ms, the fracture propagation speed increased to 175 m/s. These results demonstrate similarities between fracture nucleation in intact rock and the nucleation of dynamic instabilities in stick slip experiments. It is suggested that the ability to constrain the size of an evolving fracture provides a crucial tool in further understanding the controls on fracture nucleation.


Shear-fracture nucleation earthquake acoustic emission rupture granite 


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Copyright information

© Birkhäuser Verlag, Basel, 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ben D. Thompson
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • R. Paul Young
    • 2
  • David A. Lockner
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of Earth and Ocean SciencesUniversity LiverpoolLiverpoolUK
  2. 2.Lassonde InstituteUniversity TorontoTorontoCanada
  3. 3.United States Geological SurveyCaliforniaUSA

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