Investigating Fracture Network Deformation Using Noble Gas Release

W. Payton Gardner, Stephen J. Bauer, Scott Broome

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We investigate deformation mechanics of fracture networks in unsaturated fractured rocks from subsurface conventional detonation using dynamic noble gas measurements and changes in air permeability. We dynamically measured the noble gas isotopic composition and helium exhalation of downhole gas before and after a large subsurface conventional detonation. These noble gas measurements were combined with measurements of the subsurface permeability field from 64 discrete sampling intervals before and after the detonation and subsurface mapping of fractures in borehole walls before well completion. We saw no observable increase in radiogenic noble gas release from either an isotopic composition or a helium exhalation point of view. Large increases in permeability were observed in 13 of 64 discrete sampling intervals. Of the sampling intervals which saw large increases in flow, only two locations did not have preexisting fractures mapped at the site. Given the lack of noble gas release and a clear increase in permeability, we infer that most of the strain accommodation of the fractured media occurred along previously existing fractures, rather than the creation of new fractures, even for a high strain rate event. These results have significant implications for how we conceptualize the deformation of rocks with fracture networks above the percolation threshold, with application to a variety of geologic and geological engineering problems.

Original languageEnglish
Article number6697819
StatePublished - 2021


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