Tensile fracture of rock at high confining pressure: Implications for dike propagation

Publication Year


Journal Article

Field observations indicate that zones of inelastic deformation produced at the tips of propagating dikes can be much larger than those produced at the tips of tensile cracks in laboratory experiments. This is in direct conflict with the concept that fracture toughness and fracture energy are rock properties, independent of crack size and loading configuration. A Barenblatt model that treats fracture resistance as an internal cohesive stress acting at the crack tip is used to investigate the effect of confining pressure on rock tensile failure. When the confining pressure exceeds the cohesive strength of the rock, as it does at depths greater than several hundred meters, Linear Elastic Fracture Mechanics is inapplicable and the near-tip stress field of a propagating crack is determined by the crack size and loading configuration as well as by rock properties. As inelastic deformation depends upon the near-tip stress field, it follows that fracture energy may also depend upon crack size and loading configuration. For a propagating dike, the near-tip stress field is dominated by the large suction acting within a small (~several meter) cavity at the tip generated by viscous flow of magma within the dike. Perturbations to the ambient stress are on the order of the cavity suction and act over regions on the order of the cavity length. The tip cavity pressure may be maintained by exsolution of magmatic volatiles or by influx of host rock pore fluids; inelastic deformation is enhanced by the latter. For a tip cavity pressure maintained by influx of pore fluids, the pore pressure exceeds the least compressive stress off the dike plane, even while it equals the least compressive stress at the dike tip. This can lead to tensile failure off the dike plane and the formation of observed dike-parallel joints. Shear stresses scale with the cavity suction and may produce shear failure off the dike plane; such deformation is generally enhanced if the dike is intruded perpendicular to the least compressive stress. For sills intruded parallel to bedding, shear failure in the form of bedding plane slip can lead to the observed blunting and fingering of the intrusion front. Because the tip cavity grows with dike size, the energy consumed by rock fracture also increases with dike size and is potentially as significant for large dikes as for small dikes, a view not adopted by existing fluid mechanical models of dike propagation.

J. Geophys. Res.
15,919 - 15,935
Date Published
Short Title
Journal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth