Abstract

We explore the influence of mechanical deformation in natural sands through experiments on water-saturated samples of quartz sand. Stresses, volumetric strain, and microseismicity (or acoustic emission, AE) rates were monitored throughout each test. Deformation of quartz sand at low stresses is accommodated by granular flow without significant grain breakage, whereas at high stresses, granulation and cataclastic flow are dominant. Sands deformed under isotropic conditions show compactive strains with an inverse power-law dependence of macroscopic crushing strength on mean grain size. Triaxial compression at high effective pressures produces compactive strain and a high AE rate associated with considerable particle-size reduction. Triaxial compression at low effective pressure produces dilatant granular flow accommodated by grain boundary frictional sliding and particle rotation. On the basis of experiment results, we predict the evolution of porosity and macroscopic yield strength as a function of depth for extensional and contractional basins. Sand strength increases linearly with depth for shallow burial, whereas for deep burial, strength decreases nonlinearly with depth. At subyield stresses, porosity evolves as a function of applied mean stress and is independent of distortional stress. Our predictions are in qualitative agreement with observations of microfracture density obtained from laboratory creep-compaction experiments and with natural sandstones of the Gulf of Mexico basin. Mechanical deformation contributes as much as a 30% increase to fluid pressure evolution, which has particular application to sedimentary systems that display zones of fluid overpressure. Furthermore, deformational strains cannot be fully recovered during uplift, erosion, and unloading of a sedimentary basin.

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