Loading configurations and driving mechanisms for joints based on the Griffith energy-balance concept

Terry Engelder, Mark P. Fischer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

55 Scopus citations


Using the Griffith energy-balance concept to model joint propagation in the brittle crust, two laboratory loading configurations serve as appropriate analogs for in situ conditions: the dead-weight load and the fixed-grips load. The distinction between these loading configurations is based largely on whether or not a loaded boundary moves as a joint grows. During displacement of a loaded boundary, the energy necessary for joint propagation comes from work by the dead weight (i.e., a remote stress). When the loaded boundary remains stationary, as if held by rigid grips, the energy for joint propagation develops upon release of elastic strain energy within the rock mass. These two generic loading configurations serve as models for four common natural loading configurations: a joint-normal load; a thermoelastic load; a fluid load; and an axial load. Each loading configuration triggers a different joint-driving mechanism, each of which is the release of energy through elastic strain and/or work. The four mechanisms for energy release are joint-normal stretching, elastic contraction, poroelastic contraction under either a constant fluid drive or fluid decompression, and axial shortening, respectively. Geological circumstances favoring each of the joint-driving mechanisms are as follows. The release of work under joint-normal stretching occurs whenever layer-parallel extension keeps pace with slow or subcritical joint propagation. Under fixed grips, a substantial crack-normal tensile stress can accumulate by thermoelastic contraction until joint propagation is driven by the release of elastic strain energy. Within the Earth the rate of joint propagation dictates which of these two driving mechanisms operates, with faster propagation driven by release of strain energy. Like a dead-weight load acting to separate the joint walls, pore fluid exerts a traction on the interior of some joints. Joint propagation under fluid loading may be driven by a release of elastic strain energy and/or work by the pore fluid during poroelastic contraction. Again, propagation velocity dictates the driving mechanism, with critical to supercritical joint propagation accompanying fluid decompression and subcritical crack propagation taking place under a constant fluid drive. During axial shortening a jointing process called axial splitting may occur following wing crack growth from an initial crack tilted relative to the maximum compressive stress. Here the joint-driving mechanism may be either the work of a remote stress (i.e., a dead weight) or the release of elastic strain energy (i.e., fixed grips).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)253-277
Number of pages25
Issue number1-4 SPEC. ISS.
StatePublished - May 15 1996

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geophysics
  • Earth-Surface Processes


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