Laboratory evidence for particle mobilization as a mechanism for permeability enhancement via dynamic stressing

Thibault Candela, Emily E. Brodsky, Chris Marone, Derek Elsworth

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

108 Scopus citations


It is well-established that seismic waves can increase the permeability in natural systems, yet the mechanism remains poorly understood. We investigate the underlying mechanics by generating well-controlled, repeatable permeability enhancement in laboratory experiments. Pore pressure oscillations, simulating dynamic stresses, were applied to intact and fractured Berea sandstone samples under confining stresses of tens of MPa. Dynamic stressing produces an immediate permeability enhancement ranging from 1 to 60%, which scales with the amplitude of the dynamic strain (7 × 10 -7 to 7 × 10 -6) followed by a gradual permeability recovery. We investigated the mechanism by: (1) recording deformation of samples both before and after fracturing during the experiment, (2) varying the chemistry of the water and therefore particle mobility, (3) evaluating the dependence of permeability enhancement and recovery on dynamic stress amplitude, and (4) examining micro-scale pore textures of the rock samples before and after experiments. We find that dynamic stressing does not produce permanent deformation in our samples. Water chemistry has a pronounced effect on the sensitivity to dynamic stressing, with the magnitude of permeability enhancement and the rate of permeability recovery varying with ionic strength of the pore fluid. Permeability recovery rates generally correlate with the permeability enhancement sensitivity. Microstructural observations of our samples show clearing of clay particulates from fracture surfaces during the experiment. From these four lines of evidence, we conclude that a flow-dependent mechanism associated with mobilization of fines controls both the magnitude of the permeability enhancement and the recovery rate in our experiments. We also find that permeability sensitivity to dynamic stressing increases after fracturing, which is a process that generates abundant particulate matter in situ. Our results suggest that fluid permeability in many areas of the Earth's crust, particularly where pore fluids favor particle mobilization, should be sensitive to dynamic stressing.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)279-291
Number of pages13
JournalEarth and Planetary Science Letters
StatePublished - Apr 15 2014

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geophysics
  • Geochemistry and Petrology
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Space and Planetary Science


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