Relaxation response of critically stressed macroscale surficial rock sheets

Rock Mechanics and Rock Engineering
By: , and 



Rock environments both underground and on Earth’s surface show indications of energetic macroscale fracture. In tunnels and excavations, these manifest as rockbursts—energetic explosions of rock that can damage engineering projects, and may pose ongoing financial and safety risk as rock stresses adjust during post-failure relaxation. In natural settings at the surface, evidence for rockbursts exist in the form of tent-like structures of ruptured exfoliation sheets, but few direct observations of such events exist, precluding the analysis of how natural rock formations may evolve after rupture. Here we investigate the post-failure evolution of a granitic rock dome following rapid fracture events (i.e., surficial rockbursts) that occurred in California, USA during 2014–2016. Building upon previous work that showed a thermal stress origin for the observed fracturing, we investigate the return to background stress conditions (i.e., stress relaxation) observed in both short- (week, month) and long-term (multi-year) rock deformation trends. Acoustic emissions, deformation, and environmental monitoring data indicate that partially detached rock sheets forming the surface of the dome undergo fracture aperture closing during cooling periods, concurrent with reduction of rock stress by the source of forcing (i.e., thermal stress). However, with sufficient critical and/or subcritical fracture, our observations also show that rock sheets can become decoupled from the source of stress, resulting in a long-term return to background stress conditions. Our results provide insight into the cyclic and likely ephemeral nature of rock fracture in surficial rock domes, as well as in underground rockburst environments.

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Relaxation response of critically stressed macroscale surficial rock sheets
Series title Rock Mechanics and Rock Engineering
DOI 10.1007/s00603-019-01832-6
Volume 52
Issue 12
Year Published 2019
Language English
Publisher Springer
Contributing office(s) Geology, Minerals, Energy, and Geophysics Science Center
Description 11 p.
First page 5013
Last page 5023
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