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Does an inter-flaw length control the accuracy of rupture forecasting in geological materials

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  • Jérémie Vasseur
  • Fabian B. Wadsworth
  • Michael J. Heap
  • Ian Main
  • Y Lavallee
  • Donald B. Dingwell

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Original languageEnglish
JournalEarth and Planetary Science Letters
Publication statusPublished - 27 Jul 2017


Multi-scale failure of porous materials is an important phenomenon in nature and in material physics – from controlled laboratory tests to rockbursts, landslides, volcanic eruptions and earthquakes. A key unsolved research question is how to accurately forecast the time of system-sized catastrophic failure, based on observations of precursory events such as acoustic emissions (AE) in laboratory samples, or, on a larger scale, small earthquakes. Until now, the length scale associated with precursory events has not been well quantified, resulting in forecasting tools that are often unreliable. Here we test the hypothesis that the accuracy of the forecast failure time depends on the inter-flaw distance in the starting material. We use new experimental datasets for the deformation of porous materials to infer the critical crack length at failure from a static damage mechanics model. The style of acceleration of AE rate prior to failure, and the accuracy of forecast failure time, both depend on whether the cracks can span the inter-flaw length or not. A smooth inverse power-law acceleration of AE rate to failure, and an accurate forecast, occurs when the cracks are sufficiently long to bridge pore spaces. When this is not the case, the predicted failure time is much less accurate and failure is preceded by an exponential AE rate trend. Finally, we provide a quantitative and pragmatic correction for the systematic error in the forecast failure time, valid for structurally isotropic porous materials, which could be tested against larger-scale natural failure events, with suitable scaling for the relevant inter-flaw distances.

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