Joint interaction with embedded concretions: Joint loading configurations inferred from propagation paths

David T. McConaughy, Terry Engelder

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

33 Scopus citations


The interaction between propagating joints and embedded concretions in a Devonian black shale near Seneca Lake, NY, permits identification of the loading configurations responsible for two joint sets of different ages striking at nearly the same orientation. The earlier set consists of systematic joints cut by later Alleghanian joints of the Appalachian Plateau. The later set consists of non-systematic curving cross joints that abut these same Alleghanian joints. Field evidence shows that concretions functioned as stiff inclusions in a compliant black shale. As a consequence of this elastic contrast, local perturbations in the remote stress field persisted around the concretions during burial, tectonic deformation, and exhumation. These stress perturbations influenced joint propagation paths of both joint sets. Our conclusions about loading configurations are based on finite-element modeling of the effect of the local stress perturbation on concretion-modified joint propagation. Modeling shows that the local stress perturbation from a thermoelastic loading was responsible for deflecting cross joints away from concretions in a curved propagation path near the concretion. This load configuration also led to arrest of cross joints before they penetrated the shale-concretion interface. At greater distances from the concretion, the propagation path of cross joints was controlled by the contemporary tectonic stress field. The interface between concretions and the surrounding shale was strongly bonded, as indicated by the crossing of the interface by some of the systematic ENE joints. Higher compressive stress levels within the concretions relative to the shale suppressed joint development in the concretion, causing the arrest of those joints once they had driven across the interface and a short distance into the concretion. Numerical modeling shows that interface penetration by the systematic ENE joints is consistent with a fluid load, the same loading configuration postulated for the subsequent Alleghanian joints. The traces of the systematic ENE joints align on opposite sides of concretions, rather than curving toward the concretion as predicted by two-dimensional models of the fluid load. Co-planar traces are indicative of large, planar joints propagating in-plane around the concretion, making it energetically inefficient for the crack front to curve as it enters the local stress perturbation near the concretion. A fluid load for the systematic ENE joints came from high pore pressure during the pre-Alleghanian stages of burial of the Devonian Catskill delta complex.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1637-1652
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Structural Geology
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 1999

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geology


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