# The Coulomb - Navier Failure Criterion and Byerlee's Law

τ

b-N

Co

m
ulo

a

r
vie

il
Fa

rite
eC

rio

n

ur

100 MP a

φ

0
0

100

500 MP a

σn

Simple Coulomb - Navier behavior.
τ = µσn + Co
τ is the shear stress at failure
σn is the normal stress on the plane at failure

µ is the coefficient of friction
Co is the cohesive strength of the material

This example might represent a series of axial compression experiments on the same type of rock, say limestone, where
the samples are intact when the experiment begins. During an experiment, σ3 is fixed, and σ1 is steadily increased. If
for any plane (i.e., planar direction) in the sample, the shear stress exceeds µσn + Co on the plane, failure will occur (it
will break and slide). On a Mohr diagram, the initial conditions of the experiment are a point on the sn axis, because σ1
= σ3. As σ1 is increased, the Mohr circle representing stress in the sample increases in diameter. When the circle
becomes tangent to the line that marks the Coulomb-Navier failure criterion, failure occurs - a fault forms in the rock
sample. The orientation of the fault is given - approximately - by the point on the Mohr circle that contact the failure
criterion line (i.e., the 2θ value of the point). φ is the internal angle of friction, and also is the angle the failure criterion
makes with the σn axis. Put another way, tanφ = µ.

τ

τ=

σn

0.6

Pa

0M

+5

500 MP a

φ

0
τ=

σn

.85

0
0

500

σn

1000 MP a

Byerlee's Law Behavior: Nearly all rock types have the frictional properties given by Byerlee's Law, with the
important exception of many clay minerals.
Byerlee's Law gives the frictional properties of samples with pre-cut fault surfaces. At normal stress below about
300 MPa, resistance to shearing is given by
τ = 0.85σn
Above about 300 MPa, resistance to shearing is given by
τ = 0.6σn + 50MPa
2/14/03, M. Bunds, Dept of Earth Science, Utah Valley State College