EGU23-3676, updated on 22 Feb 2023
EGU General Assembly 2023
© Author(s) 2023. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Reactivating sealed joints: rock strength reduction and permeability enhancement … sometimes

Alexandra Kushnir1,2, Michael Heap2, Patrick Baud2, Thierry Reuschlé2, and Jean Schmittbuhl2
Alexandra Kushnir et al.
  • 1Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, ENAC, IIC, Lausanne, Switzerland (
  • 2Université de Strasbourg, CNRS, Institut Terre et Environnement de Strasbourg, UMR 7063, 5 rue René Descartes, Strasbourg F-67084, France

Rock masses are often criss-crossed by generations of discontinuities, including veins, fractures, and joints. The presence of fractures and joints can increase rock mass permeability and decrease rock mass strength. However, fluid flow within rock masses can result in secondary mineral precipitation within these spaces. Secondary mineralisation can reduce permeability, with important consequences for fluid flow in systems that rely on discontinuity-dominated permeable networks. Here we investigate if variably sealed joints can be reactivated during deformation and the role joint reactivation plays on permeability. We deformed 20 mm in diameter by 40 mm long cores of un-jointed and jointed (variably sealed) bedded sandstones. Samples were cored such that their dominant structural feature (i.e., bedding or joint) was oriented parallel, perpendicular, or at approximately 30° to the sample axis. We find that the permeability of the undeformed samples is sensitive to the presence and orientation of bedding. In jointed samples, well-sealed joints can act as barriers to fluid flow, but partially filled joints neither inhibit nor promote fluid flow with respect to their joint-free counterparts. While all rocks in this study deformed in the brittle regime under triaxial deformation conditions, the location of the experimentally induced fractures depends on the extent to which joints are sealed. The mineralisation that fills well-sealed joints also permeates the surrounding sandstone matrix, locally reducing porosity and forming a cohesive bond between the joint-fill and the host-rock that increases rock strength: experimentally induced fractures do not exploit pre-existing joint surfaces in these samples. By contrast, strain is localised on the joint surface in samples containing partially sealed joints and the strength of these samples is lower than their un-jointed counterparts. The permeability of all samples increased after deformation, but permeability increase was largest in samples with pre-existing, poorly filled joints. We conclude that partially sealed joints act as planes of weakness within rock masses and that their reactivation can result in significant permeability increase. Well-sealed joints, however, may locally increase rock strength and never become reactivated during deformation: consequently, these joints may never re-contribute to the permeability of a rock mass. These observations provide insight into how fluid flow in the crust may evolve, with possible implications for how these systems weather over time.

How to cite: Kushnir, A., Heap, M., Baud, P., Reuschlé, T., and Schmittbuhl, J.: Reactivating sealed joints: rock strength reduction and permeability enhancement … sometimes, EGU General Assembly 2023, Vienna, Austria, 24–28 Apr 2023, EGU23-3676,, 2023.