Tensile Strength of Geological Discontinuities Including Incipient Bedding, Rock Joints and Mineral Veins

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Shang, J ; Hencher, SR ; West, LJ (2016)
  • Publisher: Springer Verlag
  • Journal: Rock Mechanics and Rock Engineering
  • Related identifiers: doi: 10.1007/s00603-016-1041-x
  • Subject: Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous) | Geology | Civil and Structural Engineering | Geotechnical Engineering and Engineering Geology

Geological discontinuities have a controlling influence for many rock-engineering projects in terms of strength, deformability and permeability, but their characterisation is often very difficult. Whilst discontinuities are often modelled as lacking any strength, in many rock masses visible rock discontinuities are only incipient and have tensile strength that may approach and can even exceed that of the parent rock. This fact is of high importance for realistic rock mass characterisation but is generally ignored. It is argued that current ISRM and other standards for rock mass characterisation, as well as rock mass classification schemes such as RMR and Q, do not allow adequately for the incipient nature of many rock fractures or their geological variability and need to be revised, at least conceptually. This paper addresses the issue of the tensile strength of incipient discontinuities in rock and presents results from a laboratory test programme to quantify this parameter. Rock samples containing visible, natural incipient discontinuities including joints, bedding, and mineral veins have been tested in direct tension. It has been confirmed that such discontinuities can have high tensile strength, approaching that of the parent rock. Others are, of course, far weaker. The tested geological discontinuities all exhibited brittle failure at axial strain less than 0.5 % under direct tension conditions. Three factors contributing to the tensile strength of incipient rock discontinuities have been investigated and characterised. A distinction is made between sections of discontinuity that are only partially developed, sections of discontinuity that have been locally weathered leaving localised residual rock bridges and sections that have been ‘healed’ through secondary cementation. Tests on bedding surfaces within sandstone showed that tensile strength of adjacent incipient bedding can vary considerably. In this particular series of tests, values of tensile strength for bedding planes ranged from 32 to 88 % of the parent rock strength (intact without visible discontinuities), and this variability could be attributed to geological factors. Tests on incipient mineral veins also showed considerable scatter, the strength depending upon the geological nature of vein development as well as the presence of rock bridges. As might be anticipated, tensile strength of incipient rock joints decreases with degree of weathering as expressed in colour changes adjacent to rock bridges. Tensile strengths of rock bridges (lacking marked discolouration) were found to be similar to that of the parent rock. It is concluded that the degree of incipiency of rock discontinuities needs to be differentiated in the process of rock mass classification and engineering design and that this can best be done with reference to the tensile strength relative to that of the parent rock. It is argued that the science of rock mass characterisation may be advanced through better appreciation of geological history at a site thereby improving the process of prediction and extrapolating properties.
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