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Experimental Study on the Dilatancy and Fracturing Behavior of Soft Rock Under Unloading Conditions


To reveal the deformation mechanism during tunneling in deep soft ground, triaxial unloading confining pressure tests and triaxial unloading creep tests were carried out on sandy mudstone specimens to study the dilatancy and fracturing behavior of soft rock. In the triaxial unloading confining pressure tests, the stress path and different unloading rates were considered to reflect the unloading characteristics of the excavation methods. The unloading rate effects and the rock damage evolution law are studied. The following conclusions are obtained from the results. Firstly, when the unloading rate is smooth, the peak strengths and deviatoric stress–strain curves under the unloading condition are close to those under the conventional loading condition. Secondly, the post-peak brittle characteristics are more apparent with the increasing unloading rates. Thirdly, the soft rock undergoes five deformation and failure regimes of elasticity, pre-peak unloading damage–dilatancy, post-peak brittle drop, linear strain softening and residual perfect plasticity under quasi-static smooth unloading of mechanized excavation which is mainly focused on in this study. Fourthly, the damage evolution law at the pre-peak damage–dilatancy stage follows an exponential function. Fifthly, during the post-peak stages, multistage microfractures are initiated, propagated and finally coalesced forming a shear-fragmentation band with a certain thickness, accompanied by significant volumetric dilatancy. In the triaxial unloading creep tests, multistep unloading of the confining pressure was applied, while the axial pressure was kept constant. The results show that when the deviatoric stress is larger and the experienced creep time is longer, the unloading effect and creep characteristics become more apparent accompanied with obvious lateral dilatancy, eventually leading to significant creep–dilatancy. The progressive failure with time is caused by the damage accumulating with time-dependent crack expansion, which can be called as ‘time-dependent damage and fracturing’. The reasons for the above evolution process are presented, then the deformation mechanism of soft rock is revealed. The soft rock deformation mainly consists of two parts. One part is the pre-peak damage–dilatancy and post-peak fracture–bulking produced at the excavation unloading instant. The other part is creep–dilatancy caused by time-dependent damage and fracturing in a period of time after excavation. The above-mentioned results of damage, dilatancy and fractures evolution process are in good agreement with the in situ monitoring results and previous studies about the surrounding rock convergence, fracturing and EDZ (excavation damaged zone) development.

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This work was financially supported by the National Basic Research Program of China (‘973’ Program, grant No. 2014CB046904 and No. 2015CB058102) and the National Natural Science Foundation of China (Grant No. 41602326). Their support is gratefully acknowledged.

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Correspondence to Quansheng Liu.

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Huang, X., Liu, Q., Liu, B. et al. Experimental Study on the Dilatancy and Fracturing Behavior of Soft Rock Under Unloading Conditions. Int J Civ Eng 15, 921–948 (2017).

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  • Unloading
  • Damage–dilatancy
  • Fracture–bulking
  • Time-dependent damage and fracturing
  • Creep–dilatancy
  • Deformation mechanism