Deformation and Brittle Failure of Folded Gneiss in Triaxial Compression: Failure Modes, Acoustic Signatures and Microfabric Controls

Tuesday, 16 December 2014
Federico Agliardi1, Sergio Vinciguerra2,3, Marcus R Dobbs3 and Stefano Zanchetta1, (1)University of Milano-Bicocca, Earth and Environmental Sciences, Milano, Italy, (2)University of Leicester, Leicester, United Kingdom, (3)British Geological Survey Keyworth, Nottinghamshire, United Kingdom
Fabric anisotropy is a key control of rock behavior in different geological settings and over different timescales. However, the effect of tectonically folded fabrics on the brittle strength and failure mode of metamorphic rocks is poorly understood. Recent data, obtained from uniaxial compression experiments on folded gneiss (Agliardi et al., 2014), demonstrated that their brittle failure modes depend upon the arrangement of two anisotropies (i.e. foliation and fold axial planes) and that rock strength correlates with failure mode. Since lithostatic pressure may significantly affect this rock behavior, we investigated its effect in triaxial compression experiments. We tested the Monte Canale Gneiss (Italian Alps), characterized by low phyllosilicate content and compositional layering folded at the cm-scale. We used a servo-controlled hydraulic loading system to test 19 air-dry cylindrical specimens (ø = 54 mm) that were characterized both in terms of fold geometry and orientation of foliation and fold axial planes to the axial load direction. The specimens were instrumented with direct contact axial and circumferential strain gauges. Acoustic emissions and P- and S-wave velocities were measured by piezoelectric transducers mounted in the compression platens. The tests were performed at confining pressures of 40 MPa and axial strain rates of 5*10-6 s-1. Post-failure study of fracture mechanisms and related microfabric controls was undertaken using X-ray CT, optical microscopy and SEM. Samples failed in three distinct brittle modes produced by different combinations of fractures parallel to foliation, fractures parallel to fold axial planes, or mm-scale shear bands. The failure modes, consistent with those described in uniaxial compression experiments, were found to be associated with distinct stress-strain and acoustic emission signatures. Failure modes involving quartz-dominated axial plane anisotropy correspond to higher peak strength and axial strain, less brittle macroscopic behavior, and higher and more progressive acoustic emission activity than failure involving mica-dominated foliation anisotropy. Observed micro-scale mechanisms support a decisive control of micro-fabric associated to folding on crack nucleation and propagation, and overall mechanical behavior of rock.