Permeability of the continental crust: Implications of geothermal data and metamorphic systems

Reviews of Geophysics
By:  and 



In the upper crust, where hydraulic gradients are typically <1 MPa km-1, advective heat transport is often effective for permeabilities k ??? 10-16 m2 and advective mass (solute) transport for k ??? 10-20 m2. Regional-scale analyses of coupled groundwater flow and heat transport in the upper crust typically infer permeabilities in the range of 10-17 to 10-14 m2, so that heat advection is sometimes significant and solute advection should nearly always be significant. Analyses of metamorphic systems suggest that a geochemically significant level of permeability can exist to the base of the crust. In active metamorphic systems in the mid to lower crust, where vertical hydraulic gradients are likely >10 MPa km-1, the mean permeabilities required to accommodate the estimated metamorphic fluid fluxes decrease from ~10-16 m2 to ~10-18 m2 between 5- and 12-km depth. Below ~12 km, which broadly corresponds to the brittle-plastic transition, mean k is effectively independent of depth at ~10(-18.5??1) m2. Consideration of the permeability values inferred from thermal modeling and metamorphic fluxes suggests a quasi-exponential decay of permeability with depth of log k ~ -3.2 log z - 14, where k is in meters squared and z is in kilometers. At mid to lower crustal depths this curve lies just below the threshold value for significant advection of heat. Such conditions may represent an optimum for metamorphism, allowing the maximum transport of fluid and solute mass that is possible without advective cooling.

Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Permeability of the continental crust: Implications of geothermal data and metamorphic systems
Series title Reviews of Geophysics
DOI 10.1029/1998RG900002
Volume 37
Issue 1
Year Published 1999
Language English
Larger Work Type Article
Larger Work Subtype Journal Article
Larger Work Title Reviews of Geophysics
First page 127
Last page 150