Advances in triaxial compression deformation apparatus design, dynamic X-ray microtomography imaging, data analysis techniques, and digital volume correlation analysis provide unparalleled access to the in situ four-dimensional distribution of developing strain within rocks. To demonstrate the power of these new techniques and acquire detailed information about the micromechanics of damage evolution, deformation, and failure of porous rocks, we deformed 3-cm-scale cylindrical specimens of low-porosity Fontainebleau sandstone in an X-ray-transparent triaxial compression apparatus, and repeatedly recorded three-dimensional tomograms of the specimens as the differential stress was increased until macroscopic failure occurred. Experiments were performed at room temperature with confining pressure in the range of 10–20 MPa. Distinct grayscale subsets, indicative of density, enabled segmentation of the three-dimensional tomograms into intact rock matrix, pore space, and fractures. Digital volume correlation analysis of pairs of tomograms provided time series of three-dimensional incremental strain tensor fields throughout the experiments. After the yield stress was reached, the samples deformed first by dilatant opening and propagation of microfractures, and then by shear sliding via grain rotation and strain localization along faults. For two samples, damage and dilatancy occurred by grain boundary opening and then a sudden collapse of the granular rock framework at failure. For the third sample, a fault nucleated near the yield point and propagated in the sample through the development of transgranular microfractures. The results confirm findings of previous experimental studies on the same rock and provide new detailed quantifications of: (1) the proportion of shear versus dilatant strain in the sample, (2) the amount of dilatancy due to microfracture opening versus pore opening when a fault develops, and (3) the role of grain boundaries and pore walls in pinning microfracture propagation and slowing down the rate of damage accumulation as failure is approached. Our study demonstrates how the combination of high-resolution in situ dynamic X-ray microtomography imaging and digital volume image correlation analysis can be used to provide additional information to unravel brittle failure processes in rocks under stress conditions relevant to the upper crust.
- digital volume correlation
- dynamic X-ray microtomography
- Fontainebleau sandstone
- rupture nucleation