Abstract

— The nanoscale elastic properties of moist clay minerals are not sufficiently understood. The aim of the present study was to understand the fundamental mechanism for the effects of water and pore size on clay mineral (K+-smectite) elastic properties using the General Utility Lattice Program (GULP) with the minimum energy configurations obtained from molecular dynamics (MD) simulations. The simulation results were compared to an ideal configuration with transversely isotropic symmetry and were found to be reasonably close. The pressures computed from the MD simulations indicated that the changes due to water in comparison to the dry state varied with the water content and pore size. For pore sizes of around 0.8–1.0 nm, the system goes through a process where the normal pressure is decreased and reaches a minimum as the water content is increased. The minimum normal pressure occurs at water contents of 8 wt.% and 15 wt.% for pore sizes of around 0.8 nm and 1 nm, respectively. Further analyses of the interaction energies between water and K+-smectite and between water and water revealed that the minimum normal pressure corresponded to the maximum rate of slope change of the interaction energies (the second derivative of the interaction energies with respect to the water content). The results indicated that in the presence of water the in-plane stiffness parameters were more correlated to the pressure change that resulted from the interplay between the interactions of water with K+-smectite and the interactions of water with water rather than the water content. The in-plane stiffness parameters were much higher than the out-of-plane parameters. Elastic wave velocities for the P and S waves (Vp and Vs) in the dry K+-smectite with a pore size of ~1 nm were calculated to be 7.5 and 4.1 km/s, respectively. The P and S wave velocity ratio is key in the interpretation of seismic behavior and revealed that Vp/Vs = 1.64–1.83, which were values in favorable agreement with the experimental data. The results might offer insight into seismic research to predict the mechanical properties of minerals that are difficult to obtain experimentally and can provide complimentary information to interpret seismic surveys that can assist gas and oil exploration.

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