Structural Uncertainties of Rock Fractures and their Effect on Flow and Tracer Transport

Time: Thu 2019-11-07 10.00

Location: Kollegiesalen, Brinellvägen 8, Stockholm (English)

Subject area: Land and Water Resources Engineering

Doctoral student: Martin Stigsson , Hållbar utveckling, miljövetenskap och teknik

Opponent: Professor Ki-Bok Min, Seoul National University, South Korea

Supervisor: Professor Vladimir Cvetkovic, Resurser, energi och infrastruktur


A clear understanding of solute flow and transport through the network of fractures in the rock mass is essential for accurate long-term safety assessments of geological storage of hazardous waste. In a discrete fracture network (DFN) model, flow and transport of solutes are described by chains of flow paths through single fractures, each of which contributes to the total flow and transport properties of the rock mass. Hence, knowledge of the flow and transport properties of each single fracture is essential for accurate safety assessment.The void space that forms a fracture is a derivative of the roughness of the bounding surfaces and the normal force acting on the fracture and is hence dependent on accurate measurement of these properties. As all measurements are associated with uncertainties stemming from e.g. instrument imprecision, external disturbances and human factors, the measured value of the properties will not be single values, but probability distributions. Depending on the set of values drawn from these distributions, interpretations of flow and transport properties of sheared fractures in crystalline hard rock will vary.This thesis examines how flow and transport properties through single fractures are affected by uncertainties in fracture orientation and in roughness. By inferring the orientation and its uncertainty from the fracture intercepts in boreholes, a probability space for the orientation of the fracture is obtained. For a given stress state, this uncertainty in orientation will result in a distribution of normal stresses acting on the fracture. The roughness of the fracture and its uncertainty can be inferred from the small intersecting surfaces of the rock core, if the resolution is sufficient and the surface is representative of the fracture. The inferred roughness affects the correlation structure of the void between the two surfaces defining the fracture and, together with the distribution of normal stresses, produces different flow paths and hence different properties of flow and transport of solutes. Depending on the parameter combinations, the median and variance of the aperture field will change, as will the correlation structure of apertures. Since the flow and transport properties depend on the geometrical framework, the uncertainty will affect path length, travel time, transport resistance and flow-wetted surface. Higher normal stress acting on the fracture will typically result in longer travel times, longer travel lengths, higher transport resistance and larger flow-wetted surface. A rougher fracture will typically result in shorter travel times, longer travel lengths, lower transport resistance and smaller flow-wetted surface. The conclusion is, hence, that uncertainties in the geometric framework will affect flow and tracer transport properties.