Infoscience

Thesis

Geological characterization of cataclastic rock samples using medical X-ray computerized tomography: towards a better geotechnical description

Technical difficulties associated with tunnelling operations in tectonized geological settings are frequently encountered. They may include instantaneous and delayed cavity convergence, sudden collapse of walls or roof of a gallery, outpouring of fault-filling materials and water inflows. These phenomena may negatively affect economical and safety aspects of construction sites. The present study refers to two previous research projects conducted at the EPFL addressing the problem of an improved geological and geomechanical characterization of weak cataclastic rocks in underground excavation works (Cataclastic fault rocks in underground excavations, a geological perspective, Bürgi, 1999; Caractérisation géomécanique de roches cataclastiques rencontrées dans des ouvrages souterrains alpins, Habimana, 1999). Cataclasis is an evolutionary rock degradation process in time and magnitude related to fault zone activity in the Earth's crust. A conceptual model describing the occurrence and variability of cataclastic rocks at shallow crustal conditions is proposed in this research. It describes environment of fault zones based on both theoretical considerations and field experiences collected during self-realized short-drilling operations performed in contrasted petrological settings. The model considers cataclasis from a regional perspective (macroscopic scale) down to its microscopic manifestations on rock materials. Cataclastic rock characteristics are strongly influenced by the degree of tectonic solicitation and the initial rock composition. Guidelines about specific damage microstructures diagnostic of the cataclastic intensity and function of the initial rock protolith can meaningfully assist the interpretation of rock specimens recovered from reconnaissance drilling operations. Despite the poor mechanical quality often observed for such samples and their readiness to collapse, this study demonstrates that the in situ extraction of cataclastic specimens can be largely improved with the use of a high-quality drilling equipment. Accordingly, with the availability of representative materials for subsequent studies, the uncertainties affecting the geological prognosis can be strongly limited at a preliminary stage of geotechnical studies. It is shown that the geotechnical characterisation of cataclastic rock cores by means of laboratory investigations requires combining information about rock microstructure and mineralogy with strain-stress relationship derived from triaxial compression tests. Such a framework makes it possible to interpret and explain the specific mechanical behavior of heterogeneous-anisotropic rock materials in a much more coherent manner. With this regard, the approach followed by Bürgi (1999) with a mineralo-structural index (MSI) determined on 2D thin sections and proposed to predict cataclastic rock strength based on geological evidences, is found to have potential for geotechnical studies. However, Bürgi's approach still faces heavy criticism in the light of the practical application. Its limitations are detailed and discussed in this study. Accounting for both aspects of the rock characterization procedure, an operational methodology is therefore proposed aiming at its application in geotechnical studies. The medical X-ray computerized tomography (XRCT) has been specifically implemented in this context for the analysis of geotechnical rock cores, as a non-destructive technique which allows a rapid indirect imaging of the rock core structure before any further analytical manipulations are conducted. The technique is found facilitating to a great extent the study of cataclastic materials. An irradiation protocol has been defined and an acquisition strategy minimalizing inherent artifacts of the XRCT technique has been tested. Obtained results are highly encouraging. Moreover, an image analysis tool has been developed in order to improve the segmentation of geological damage features from indirectly recorded X-ray models. As discussed in details within this study, a critical analysis of 3D segmented models corresponding to sample structures before and after mechanical tests is thought to be capable to improve the triaxial test interpretation. The XRCT is therefore envisaged as a bridge technique permitting an improved correlation between specific properties of cataclastic rocks based on indirect evidences. With it, the geological and mechanical characterizations can be performed on the exactly same samples, reducing uncertainty in the characterization procedure. This step goes towards the development of a precise geotechnical classification for cataclastic rocks. Based on the XRCT technique, it is also discussed how Bürgi's approach could be translated in a three-dimensional form to reach a wider agreement. Based on a database of carbonatic cataclasites, it is evidenced that cataclastic strength and deformation properties are strongly influenced by textural and structural characteristics of pre-existing damage microstructures. Strength data obtained in this research show that in the same fault zone environment, different mode of deformations affect cataclastic rocks and that peak triaxial strength can vary significantly. Heterogeneity and material anisotropy are prime factors affecting specific behaviors of cataclastic rocks. Therefore, it is suggested to incorporate geological features into constitutive frameworks which describe mechanical behavior of such materials. This last aspect constitutes a very stimulating research field where further work is needed today.

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