Silica Transport, Deposition and Porosity Evolution in a Fracture : Insights from Hydrothermal Flow-through Experiments
Abstract:Geofluids contain a large amount of silica, which solubility changes depending on temperature and pressure. Ubiquitous occurrences of various silica deposits (quartz veins, silica sinter, scales) suggest that silica precipitation plays an important role on temporal and spatial variation of hydrological properties of the Earth’s crusts. A pressure drop, for example, induced by seismicity, is one of the driving forces for silica precipitation within the crusts. In spite of the importance of silica depositions in fractures, how porosity and permeability evolution during silica precipitation is still poorly understood.
In this study, we conducted the hydrothermal experiments for silica precipitation from supersaturated solutions in vapor (370˚C, 20 MPa) and supercritical (420 ˚C, 30 MPa) conditions with flow rate of 1 g/min. After the experiments, we analyzed the 3-D porosity structures by X-ray CT, and then by making thin section. We developed a tube-in-tube vessel, which is composed of main vessel (made of SUS316), and inner alumina tube (6 mm inner diameter), to make a horizontal flow path. We did not used rock/mineral substrates, and alumina balls (1 mm diameter) are closely packed in the inner tube.
In both situations, a significant amount of silica deposited within a week, showing contrasting porosity structures between vapor and supercritical conditions. In vapor conditions, the precipitates are fine-grained quartz aggregate, and the most deposited at around 38 mm from the inlet. The pores were filled from the bottom to the top in the tube. In contrast, in the supercritical conditions, the precipitates are composites of amorphous silica and quartz; which accumulated around the alumina balls uniformly. Quartz grains are formed in amorphous silica layers, and the most porosity reduction occurred at around 25 mm from the inlet. A simple model of cellular automaton involving particle flow, adsorption, settling and deposition reveals that the relative magnitude of gravitational settling and adsorption controls the contrasting porosity pattern. Amorphous silica could be transport in long distance and adsorbed uniformly on the wall, whereas quartz grains nucleated in vapor immediately settled on the bottom, which could generate the contrasting vein textures.