Acceleration and localization of subcritical crack growth in a natural composite material

Phys Rev E Stat Nonlin Soft Matter Phys. 2014 Nov;90(5-1):052401. doi: 10.1103/PhysRevE.90.052401. Epub 2014 Nov 12.


Catastrophic failure of natural and engineered materials is often preceded by an acceleration and localization of damage that can be observed indirectly from acoustic emissions (AE) generated by the nucleation and growth of microcracks. In this paper we present a detailed investigation of the statistical properties and spatiotemporal characteristics of AE signals generated during triaxial compression of a sandstone sample. We demonstrate that the AE event amplitudes and interevent times are characterized by scaling distributions with shapes that remain invariant during most of the loading sequence. Localization of the AE activity on an incipient fault plane is associated with growth in AE rate in the form of a time-reversed Omori law with an exponent near 1. The experimental findings are interpreted using a model that assumes scale-invariant growth of the dominating crack or fault zone, consistent with the Dugdale-Barenblatt "process zone" model. We determine formal relationships between fault size, fault growth rate, and AE event rate, which are found to be consistent with the experimental observations. From these relations, we conclude that relatively slow growth of a subcritical fault may be associated with a significantly more rapid increase of the AE rate and that monitoring AE rate may therefore provide more reliable predictors of incipient failure than direct monitoring of the growing fault.