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Subcritical crack growth in geological materials


  • Barry Kean Atkinson


A review is presented of the experimental data on subcritical crack growth in geological materials. The main parameters describing subcritical crack growth are the critical stress intensity factor Kc, the subcritical crack growth limit Ko, and the stress intensity factor-crack velocity (K-v) relationship between Ko and Kc. The K-v data are presented in terms of an equation in which the crack velocity depends on stress intensity factor raised to a power n because this is common practice in experimental studies. These data are presented as tables and in synoptic diagrams. For silicates the value of n increases as the environment becomes depleted in hyroxyl species and with increase in the microstructural complexity of the solid. Values of n as low as 9.5 have been found for tensile cracking of quartz in basic environments and as high as 170 for tensile cracking of basalt in moist air. Insufficient experimental data are available to predict subcritical crack growth behavior at depth in the earth's crust without major extrapolations of the data base. Schematic outlines are presented, therefore, of the probable influence on subcritical crack growth of some key parameters in the crustal environment. These include stress intensity factor, temperature, pressure, activity of corrosive environmental agent, microstructure, and residual strains. In addition, a discussion is presented of the likely magnitude of the subcritical crack growth limit. For stress corrosion tensile crack growth of quartz a limit of approximately 0.2 of the critical stress intensity factor is inferred from theoretical calculations. Further problems discussed with regard to the extrapolation of experimental data to crustal conditions include the choice of a suitable equation to describe crack growth and the magnitude of parameters in these equations. A brief discussion of the double torsion testing method is presented in order to aid the interpretation of experimental results because it is almost the sole method used to study subcritical cracking in rocks.