Effects of local rock heterogeneities on the hydromechanics of fractured rocks using a digital-image-based technique

W. C. Zhu, J. Liu, T. H. Yang, J. C. Sheng, D. Elsworth

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

66 Scopus citations


A digital-image-based (DIB) finite element approach is developed based on the numerical code rock failure process analysis (RFPA) to characterize micro-scale rock heterogeneity, and to understand the impact of micro-scale rock heterogeneity on the macro-scale hydromechanical response of rocks. The DIB technique incorporates small-scale spatial variability of initial deformation modulus, strength and permeability directly into a coupled hydromechanical model. Variability in Young's modulus, strength, and permeability is applied by a property map defined from the pixel-scale of a digital image. In the RFPA, mechanical deformation is followed, including the accumulation of damage applied in individual elements, which modifies modulus, strength, and permeability with the intensity of damage. The RFPA simulates progressive failure in fractured rocks, representing both the growth of existing fractures and the formation of new fractures, without having to identify crack tips and their interaction explicitly. In this DIB simulation approach, image voxels are used to give equivalent mechanical and flow properties. These property maps are ported to the model capable of solving directly for the evolving deformation, and fluid flow fields. The model is validated through comparisons of the simulated results with phenomenological observations documented in previous studies. The validated model is then applied to investigate the hydromechanical response of fractured rock characterized by digital image. The model is able to reproduce the spatial evolution of damage in the sample, the coalescence of existing cracks, and the formation of new cracks.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1182-1199
Number of pages18
JournalInternational Journal of Rock Mechanics and Mining Sciences
Issue number8
StatePublished - Dec 2006

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geotechnical Engineering and Engineering Geology


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