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ISRM-Sponsored International Symposium on Rock Mechanics:

Rock Characterisation, Modelling and Engineering Design Methods

A new apparatus for investigating stress, deformation and seepage

coupling properties of rock fractures
C. H. Liu & C. X. Chen
Institute of Rock and Soil Mechanics, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Wuhan


A true triaxial apparatus which is composed of three sub-devices is presented. This apparatus
allows for investigations on deformation and seepage behaviors of a single rock fracture subjected
to lateral stress, as well as under normal stress. The first device has three jacks which can apply
loads independently in three orthogonal directions. The second device is used to supply water
inflow, control seepage pressure and measure flow velocity in real time. The last device is for
measuring the normal deformation of rock fractures. Four strain gauges are symmetrically
embedded into the rock sample, connected with a data acquisition instrument. After the
presentation of the true triaxial experimental apparatus, some tests for investigating normal
deformation behaviors of rock fractures subjected to normal and lateral loads, adopting hard granite
specimens with an artificial persistent fracture, are introduced. The results show that the aperture
of rock fractures is influenced not only by the normal stress but also by lateral stresses. The
aperture decreases with increasing the normal stress but increases as the lateral stress rises and
obeys an exponential relationship with both normal stress and lateral stresses. Further studies on
normal deformation behaviors of rock fractures considering mechanical and geometrical
parameters and stress, and deformation and seepage coupling properties subjected to triaxial loads
are in progress.

1 INTRODUCTION normal stress increases, but rises with increasing lateral

stress. Zhao et al. (1999) developed an empirical
Seepage and stress fields coupling of jointed rock masses equation to calculate hydraulic conductivity subjected to
in many geotechnical situations such as water triaxial stresses. These investigations were performed
conservation, hydropower, high-lever radioactive waste by general triaxial experimental tests. Although they
disposal, oil reposition and slope engineering, has greatly promoted studies on the seepage characteristics of
attracted concentrated attention. Since a rock fracture is rock fractures subjected to 3D stresses, much more
the weakest part of rock masses, it is extremely important researches are necessary to obtain robust theories,
to investigate stress, deformation and seepage coupling especially in the area of true triaxial hydro-mechanical
properties of a single fracture to study the properties.
hydro-mechanical law of jointed rock mass. Many In this paper, a true triaxial device (RPT-3D) designed
researchers (Snow 1968; Gangi 1978; Witherspoon et al. for studying stress, deformation and seepage properties of
1980; Barton et al. 1985; Tsang 1987; Liu 1987; Su et al. rock fractures, is first presented, and then some tests for
1997; Chen et al. 2000) have made significant investigatiing normal deformation behaviors of a single
contributions to the understanding of this problem. rock fracture due to normal and lateral loads, adopting
However, most investigations have mainly focused on the hard granite specimens with an artificial persistent
aspect of seepage and normal stress coupling. Actually, fracture are introduced.
rock masses always lie in a condition of 3D stresses.
Accordingly, it is significant to study seepage properties 2 DEVELOPMENT OF THE TRUE TRIAXIAL
of rock fractures under 3D stresses. Limited APPARATUS
investigations in this field are documented in literature.
Zhang et al. (1997) and Zeng et al. (2005) studied flow of The true triaxial apparatus shown in plate 1 consists of
rock fractures under different stress conditions and three sub-devices including the loading device, the
pointed out that the flow velocity diminishes as the seepage measurement device and the deformation
measurement device. 2.2 The seepage measurement device

2.1 The loading device The RPT-3D has a seepage system shown in figure 2
which produces water flow through the rock fracture.
The loading device including two horizontal jacks and a For the specimen is made by splitting hard granite and
vertical jack is depicted in figure 1, which can apply loads hence the fracture is persistent, in order to prepare the
independently along three orthogonal directions. One specimen and ensure it is leakproof on the sides parallel
horizontal jack loads a normal stress to the rock fracture; to the flow direction, two notches of 0.5 cm in depth and
another horizontal jack and the vertical jack exert lateral 0.5 cm in width are cut into the two parallel sides of the
stresses. The jacks fixed on the steel loading box which specimen and closed using silicon paste. Therefore, the
is rigid enough, and equipped with stress meters, can effective size of the fracture is 140 mm280 mm.
apply 0 5MPa normal stress or lateral stress to a Hydraulic pressure is applied using stable high-pressure
rectangular specimen with the size 15cm!15cm!28cm. nitrogen which is controlled through a compressor valve.
Water flows through the fracture from the bottom to the
top of the specimen which is seated on and covered by
two steel plates with flow-guided grids respectively.
Two valves are respectively placed at the inlet and the
outlet to control accurately seepage pressure and flow
velocity through the fracture. Water current is measured
by a flowmeter.

12 13

15 12

Plate 1: RPT-3D 11
11 10 9
7 6 7
2 1

Figure 2: Sketch of water flow though a rock fracture: 9,

5 high-pressure nitrogen tank; 10, water tank; 11, valves; 12,
3 3 pressure meters; 13, flowmeter; 14, flow-guided grids; 15, seal
6 6 rings.

8 2.3 The deformation measurement device

According to Darcy Law, hydraulic conductivity

increases with rising squared aperture. The aperture is a
key factor which affects stress, deformation and seepage
coupling properties of rock fractures. In order to
Figure 1: Schematic of the loading device: 1, specimen; 2, rock monitoring the normal deformation of a rock fracture
fracture; 3, horizontal jacks; 4, vertical jack; 5, steel loading subjected to loads, four strain gauges are symmetrically
box; 6, pressure plates; 7, tension rods; 8, support frame embedded in two notches, which are cut for creating the
persistent fracture and molded with silicon paste, and
connected to a data acquisition instrument by wires, as shown in figure 4.
depicted in figure 3. The stable values of four strain
gauges are collected by the data acquisition instrument
and their average value represents the normal 3
deformation/aperture increment of the rock fracture.

2 1

Figure 4: Stresses applied on the specimen

Figure 3: Normal deformation measurement of rock fractures:

16, data acquisition instrument; 17, strain gauges; 18, notches For case 1, normal stress was exerted in steps as planed.
cut for creating a persistent fracture. After the loading process was over, the specimen was
unloaded step by step and then a circle loading process
was finished. At each step, normal deformation of the
3 SPECIMEN AND TEST PROCEDURE fracture was measured by keeping the normal load
constant. As for case 2, the normal stress and a lateral
3.1 Specimen preparation stress were applied but kept constant during testing.
Normal deformation at each step was recorded in the
The granite used to prepare the specimen is from Daye in same way as case 1.
China, with the unit weight 26.7 kN/m3 and the uniaxial
compressive strength 136 MPa. All six faces of the 4 TEST RESULTS
specimen were polished with smoothness 0.5mm,
dimension error 0.3mm and angle error 0.25. Two The relationship curves of the normal stress and the
notches of 0.5 cm in depth and 0.5 cm in width were first normal deformation are described in figure 5. It is
cut at the middle of two parallel faces, and then the shown that normal deformation (being positive while
specimen was split along the notches. The artificial compression) increases as normal stress increases, in
fracture was fully superposed, before the strain gauges other words, the aperture of the rock fracture decreases
were embedded and the notches were molded with silicon when subjected to normal stress. The higher the normal
paste. Finally, a specimen of 150 mm!150 mm!280 stress is, the lower the increasing rate in normal
mm, with an artificial persistent fracture of 140 mm!280 deformation is. This indicates that the aperture of the
mm, was prepared. rock fracture tends to a stable value. It is also observed
from figure 5 that plastic deformation due to normal load
3.2 Test procedure occurs although it is negligible compared with elastic
deformation and that the test results are repeatable by
In order to investigating mechanical properties of a single circle loading.
rock fracture, deformation tests of the rock fracture under Figure 6 presents the relationships between the lateral
normal and lateral stresses were performed. In this stress and the normal deformation. In this case, normal
paper, test results in two cases are introduced. Case 1 is deformation decreases with rising lateral stress, and the
subjected to normal stress with zero lateral stresses and higher the lateral stress is, the greater the growth in
case 2 is under lateral stresses with constant normal stress. normal deformation is. It can be seen from figure 6 that
These orthogonal stresses applied on the specimen are the relationship of the lateral stress and the normal
deformation is affected by the normal stress. When a 2(MPa)
greater normal stress is applied, the increment of normal 0 1 2 3 4 5
deformation under the same lateral stress is smaller. 0

200 -6


100 Loading
Figure 6: Influence of lateral stress on normal deformation of a
rock fracture. (a) S 1  0.928 MPa S 3  0.785 MPa;
(b) S 1  1.321 MPa S 3  0.785 MPa.
0 1 2 3 4 5



200 The test results show that the normal deformation of a

rock fracture is affected not only by normal stress but also

150 by lateral stress. Although normal deformation

increases with increasing normal stress but decreases with
100 Loading growing lateral stress, it approximately obeys an
Unloading exponential relationship with both normal stress and
50 lateral stress, as shown in figures.5-6. Therefore, lateral
stress can be equivalent to a normal tensile stress
0 (compression being positive). An exponential equation
0 1 2 3 4 5 describing the normal deformation behavior of a single
(b) 1(MPa) rock fracture under normal stress, proposed by Sun
(1983), is widely adopted and is expressed as
Figure 5: Influence of normal stress on normal deformation of a S
rock fracture. (a) First circle loading; (b) second circle loading.
$b  b0 1 e K n (1)

where b0 is the maximum closing deformation, Kn is the
2(MPa) relevant closing stiffness of the fracture faces, b is the
0 1 2 3 4 5
closing deformation and 1 is the normal stress.
Considering lateral stresses, equation (1) can be written
-5 as:
-10 S C ( S 2 S 3 )

$b  b0 1 e Kn (2)


-20 where is defined as the influencing coefficient of lateral

stress on normal deformation, and 2 and 3 are the lateral
-30 Further, aperture can be expressed as:
Barton N, Bandis S & Bakhtar K. 1985. Strength,
S C (S 2 S 3 )
b  b0 exp 1 (3) deformation and conductivity coupling of rock joints.
Kn Int. J. Rock Mech. Min. Sci. and Geomech. Abstr.,
Equation (3) describes the relationship of the aperture 22(3):121-140.
and triaxial stresses. Further studies on normal Tsang Y.W. 1987. Channel model of flow through
deformation behaviors of rock fractures considering fractured media. Water Resources Res., 23(3):467-79.
mechanical and geometrical parameters are necessary for Liu J.S. 1987. Seepage equation of a single rock fracture
a more precise understanding. under normal stress. Hydrogeology and Engineering
Above presentations indicate that the true triaxial Geology (in Chinese), 14(2):32-28.
apparatus was successfully designed and well used to Su B.Y, Zhan M.L &. Wang Y. 1997. Testing study on the
perform mechanical tests of rock fractures. Good results characters of seepage and stress coupling of rock
describing the relationships of the aperture and triaxial fractures. Chinese Journal of Geotechnical
stresses have been obtained. As for future work, we Engineering (in Chinese), 19(4): 73-77.
intend to investigate normal deformation behaviors of Chen Z, Narayan S.P, Yang Z, et al. 2000. An
rock fractures considering mechanical and geometrical experimental investigation of hydraulic behavior of
parameters and seepage properties of rock fractures fractures and joints in granitic rock. Int. J. Rock Mech.
subjected to triaxial stresses. Min. Sci., 37(7):1061-1071.
Zhang Y.Z & Zhang J.C. 1997. Experimental study of the
ACHNOWLEDGEMENTS seepage flow-stress coupling in fractured rock masses.
Chinese Journal of Rock and Soil Mechanics, 18(4):
This study was supported by the National Natural Science 59-62.
Foundation of China through a grant 50809069. Zeng Y.S, Lu D.T, Zeng Q.H, et al. 2005. Experimental
study on coupling of flow-stress within a single
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