Letters to Nature

Nature 428, 63-66 (4 March 2004) | doi:10.1038/nature02333; Received 1 December 2003; Accepted 13 January 2004

Hybrid fracture and the transition from extension fracture to shear fracture

Jonathan M. Ramsey1,2 & Frederick M. Chester1

  1. Center for Tectonophysics, Department of Geology and Geophysics, Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas 77843-3115, USA
  2. Present address: Anadarko Petroleum Corporation, 1201 Lake Robbins Drive, The Woodlands, Texas 77380, USA

Correspondence to: Frederick M. Chester1 Email: chesterf@geo.tamu.edu

Fracture is a fundamental mechanism of material failure. Two basic types of brittle fractures are commonly observed in rock deformation experiments—extension (opening mode) fractures and shear fractures1, 2. For nearly half a century it has been hypothesized that extension and shear fractures represent end-members of a continuous spectrum of brittle fracture types3, 4, 5, 6. However, observations of transitional fractures that display both opening and shear modes (hybrids) in naturally deformed rock have often remained ambiguous, and a clear demonstration of hybrid fracture formation has not been provided by experiments4. Here we present the results of triaxial extension experiments on Carrara marble that show a continuous transition from extension fracture to shear fracture with an increase in compressive stress. Hybrid fractures form under mixed tensile and compressive stress states at acute angles to the maximum principal compressive stress. Fracture angles are greater than those observed for extension fractures and less than those observed for shear fractures. Fracture surfaces also display a progressive change from an extension to shear fracture morphology.

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