Analysis of thermally induced changes in fractured rock permeability during 8 years of heating and cooling at the Yucca Mountain Drift Scale Test

J. Rutqvist, B. Freifeld, K. B. Min, D. Elsworth, Y. Tsang

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Abstract

We analyzed a data set of thermally induced changes in fractured rock permeability during a 4-year heating (up to 200 °C) and subsequent 4-year cooling of a large volume, partially saturated and highly fractured volcanic tuff at the Yucca Mountain Drift Scale Test, Nevada, USA. Permeability estimates were derived from about 700 pneumatic (air-injection) tests, taken periodically at 44 packed-off borehole intervals during the heating and cooling cycle from November 1997 through November 2005. We analyzed air-permeability data by numerical modeling of thermally induced stress and moisture movements and their impact on air permeability within the highly fractured rock. Our analysis shows that changes in air permeability during the initial 4-year heating period, which were limited to about one order of magnitude, were caused by the combined effects of thermal-mechanically induced stress on fracture aperture and thermal-hydrologically induced changes in fracture moisture content. At the end of the subsequent 4-year cooling period, air-permeability decreases (to as low as 0.2 of initial) and increases (to as high as 1.8 of initial) were observed. By comparison to the calculated thermo-hydro-elastic model results, we identified these remaining increases or decreases in air permeability as irreversible changes in intrinsic fracture permeability, consistent with either inelastic fracture shear dilation (where permeability increased) or inelastic fracture surface-asperity shortening (where permeability decreased). In this paper, we discuss the possibility that such fracture asperity shortening and associated decrease in fracture permeability might be enhanced by dissolution of highly stressed surface asperities over years of elevated stress and temperature.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1373-1389
Number of pages17
JournalInternational Journal of Rock Mechanics and Mining Sciences
Volume45
Issue number8
DOIs
StatePublished - Dec 2008

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geotechnical Engineering and Engineering Geology

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