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Laboratory Investigation of Shear Ruptures: Supersonic Propagation and Nucleation by Fluid Injection


Gori, Marcello (2018) Laboratory Investigation of Shear Ruptures: Supersonic Propagation and Nucleation by Fluid Injection. Dissertation (Ph.D.), California Institute of Technology. doi:10.7907/AH9X-V905.


Shear rupture nucleation and dynamic propagation is a challenging, non- linear, highly interactive process with important practical implications. Here we focus on two aspects of this problem: propagation speeds and shock front radiation from the dynamic crack tip as well as nucleation of dynamic rupture due to fluid injection.

Spontaneously propagating cracks in solids emit pressure and shear waves and are, in part, driven by energy transfer due to them. When a shear crack propagates faster than the shear wave speed of the material, the coalescence of the shear wavelets emitted by the near-crack-tip region forms a shock front that significantly concentrates particle motion. The equivalent scenario involving a pressure shock front should not be possible, since cracks should not be able to exceed the pressure wave speed, at least in an isotropic linear-elastic solid. Here we present full-field experimental evidence of dynamic shear cracks in viscoelastic polymers that result in the formation of a pressure shock front, in addition to the shear one. In that sense, the crack appears to be supersonic. The apparent violation of classic theories is explained by the strain-rate-dependent material behavior of polymers: the increased wave speeds within the highly- strained region around the crack tip allow for supersonic crack propagation with respect to the (lower) wave speeds at short distances away from the interface, resulting in the formation of the pressure shock front. The crack speed remains below the pressure wave speed prevailing locally, about its tip, in agreement with basic physics and energy considerations of linear-elastic theories.

We find that the shock fronts emitted by the shear cracks in the viscoelastic materials are curved and propose a novel method to quantify the viscoelastic wave speeds of the solids in the dynamic range of strain rates based on the curvature. Only kinematic relationships are used in the method, without the need for the constitutive relationship of the material. Measuring or inferring the material properties at elevated strain rates in viscoelastic solids is a difficult task, because of practical limitations of obtaining accurate measurements in that regime. Under the quasi-elastic solid approximation, in which the strain-rate history is neglected, we use the pressure-wave speed measurements to infer the associated value of the Young’s modulus, estimated by assuming a constant value of the Poisson’s ratio. We complement these results with the characterization of the Young’s modulus at lower strain rates via canonical compressive tests. Our results not only confirm previous findings that the Young’s modulus dependence on the strain rate in PMMA is significant but also demonstrate that its variation is more pronounced in the dynamic strain-rate range, with important consequences for the design of structures employing viscoelastic materials that are required to withstand elevated strain rates.

The second part of the study concentrates on the nucleation of shear dynamic rupture due to fluid injection or, more broadly, on the interaction of frictional faulting with fluids. Fluid overpressure is recognized to play a fundamental role in promoting fault motion. A large number of observations has shed light on the interplay between fluids and faulting, both in natural events and in earth-quakes induced by human activities, such as wastewater disposal associated with oil and gas extraction. Fluids can induce a variety of earthquake source behaviors ranging from unstable, dynamic motions to stable, quasi-static ones, which a number of field studies suggests that can coexist on the same fault areas at different times, depending on the local conditions. In fact, a higher pore pres-sure plays the dual role of reducing the frictional strength of the fault and of increasing the nucleation size, e.g., the critical length for a shear crack to transition from quasi-static to dynamic motions. However, due to the complexity of the frictional problem at the fault interface, the understanding of which of these two effects prevails remains elusive. The assumption of a critical nucleation length represents a powerful, yet simplified concept, which currently does not include the dependence on the rate of the pore pressure increase.

Here, we explore the effect of the rate of the pore pressure increase on the rupture nucleation. We find that elevated injection rates induce triggering of the rupture at lower pressure values and minimal volumes of the injected fluid, if compared to slow injection rates. For the slow injection rates, we experimentally observe a much larger portion of interface wetted by the fluid and a phase of accelerated slip prior to the dynamic event (quasi-dynamic nucleation process). In some cases, we record much smaller foreshock-like events at the injection site. These findings suggest the presence of a prominent quasi-static nucleation process over the interface. In cases of rapid pore pressure increase, the nucleation process is much shorter in time and much more compact in space, being highly concentrated around the injection location. The dynamic events, once initiated, are qualitatively similar across different injection rates, but quantitatively different, with the slow-injection ones experiencing higher stress drops and higher slips, perhaps due to the effect of fluids on the friction properties. These findings suggest the need to develop nucleation size estimates that include the rate of the pore pressure increase and motivate further investigation of how friction properties depend on the presence of fluids. The details of the obtained experimental findings, once analyzed through numerical modeling, will place important constrains on the forms of the acceptable friction laws, including the effects of pore fluid pressure and its rate of change.

Item Type:Thesis (Dissertation (Ph.D.))
Subject Keywords:Shear Ruptures; Shear Cracks; Seismicity; Slow Slip; Creep; Fluid Injection; Induced Seismicity; Supersonic; Mach Cone; Shock Front; Friction Law; Strain Gages; Digital Image Correlation; High-Speed Photography; Laboratory Earthquakes; Viscoelasticity; PMMA; Homalite; Strain Rate; Material Properties.
Degree Grantor:California Institute of Technology
Division:Engineering and Applied Science
Major Option:Aeronautics
Awards:William F. Ballhaus Prize, 2018. Hans G. Hornung Prize, 2018.
Thesis Availability:Public (worldwide access)
Research Advisor(s):
  • Rosakis, Ares J. (advisor)
  • Lapusta, Nadia (co-advisor)
Thesis Committee:
  • Ravichandran, Guruswami (chair)
  • Andrade, Jose E.
  • Rosakis, Ares J.
  • Lapusta, Nadia
Defense Date:19 March 2018
Non-Caltech Author Email:marcello.gori00 (AT)
Record Number:CaltechTHESIS:05312018-150338327
Persistent URL:
Gori, Marcello0000-0002-7380-3723
Default Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:10988
Deposited By: Marcello Gori
Deposited On:01 Jun 2018 23:19
Last Modified:23 Jan 2020 21:44

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