Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
thesis_access.pdf (26.71 MB)

Fracture system characterisation and implications for fluid flow in volcanic and metamorphic rocks

Download (26.71 MB)
posted on 2021-11-22, 02:06 authored by Massiot, Cécile

Fluid flow pathways in volcanic and metamorphic rocks are dominantly controlled by fracture systems. Although these fracture systems are critical for developing reservoirs in an economical and sustainable way, and for understanding processes that cause earthquakes, they are often poorly constrained. This thesis studies the geometry of fracture systems, the factors influencing their geometries, and their possible impacts on permeability in three contrasting settings: an outcropping andesite lava flow of the Ruapehu volcano; the andesite-hosted Rotokawa geothermal reservoir; and the Alpine Fault hangingwall metamorphosed schists. We use datasets from a combination of cores, acoustic borehole televiewer (BHTV) logs, outcrop scanlines, and terrestrial laser scanner (TLS) point clouds, which span multiple scales of observation.  Fracture geometries are studied in a young (~6 ka-old) blocky andesitic lava flow on the Ruapehu volcano, as a representative example of weakly-altered andesitic lava flows emplaced over gentle topography in the absence of glaciers. Fractures were formed during cooling and emplacement of the lava flow. Fractures are automatically detected from the 3-D TLS point cloud of an outcrop area of ~3090 m2 using a plane detection algorithm, and calibrated with manual scanlines and high-resolution panoramic photographs. Column-forming fractures dominate the fracture system, are either sub-horizontal or sub-vertical (i.e., sub-parallel or sub-perpendicular to the brecciated margins) without mean strike orientation, and have an exponential length distribution. Sub-horizontal, clustered platy fractures sub-parallel to the flow direction arrest or deflect column-forming fractures. Areal and volumetric fracture intensity analyses reveal a ~0.5 % connected fracture volume which, although seemingly small, promotes fluid flow due to the planarity and connectivity of the system. Autobreccias are partially connected to column-forming fractures, and may promote lateral flow or form barriers depending on the extent of post-cooling alteration and mineralisation. Discrete fracture network models generated with the measured geometrical parameters are in agreement with the observed highly connected fracture system.   Fractures in the andesite-hosted Rotokawa Geothermal Field are described in cores and BHTV logs. Fractures interpreted on BHTV logs are separated into sets of similar orientation using quantifiable clustering algorithms. Fracture thickness and spacing probability distributions are estimated from maximum likelihood estimations applied to truncated distributions, taking sampling biases into consideration. Spacing of the predominant sub-vertical NE-SW-striking fracture set, and subordinate NW-SE-striking fracture set, are best approximated by log-normal distributions and interpreted to be controlled by stratifications within the lava flow sequence. By contrast, spacing of other subordinate fracture sets, either dipping 60° and striking NE-SW, or steeply dipping and striking N-S, are best approximated by power-law distributions and interpreted to be fault-controlled. Fracture thicknesses in both cores and BHTV logs are approximated by a single power-law distribution, which reflects heterogeneous pathways observed at reservoir scale. Previously reported ~5 µm-thick fractures studied in thin section do not follow this power-law distribution and have an isotropic orientation, which suggests a change of controls on fracture density and orientation from thermal stresses at thin-section scale, to tectonic and lithological at core and BHTV log scales. However, fractures occupy ~5 % of the rock mass at the three scales of observations, suggesting a self-similar behaviour of fracture volumes in 3-D.  In contrast to the Ruapehu and Rotokawa reservoir studies, scientific drilling in 2014 of the DFDP-2B borehole offered a unique opportunity to investigate the foliation and fractures along a 630 m-long borehole section in metamorphic rocks in the hangingwall of the Alpine Fault. BHTV log interpretation reveals a constant foliation and foliation-parallel fracture orientation (60°/145°; dip magnitude/dip direction) similar to nearby outcrops and parallel to the regional strike of the Alpine Fault. This foliation orientation may reflect the orientation of the Alpine Fault at ~1 km depth. In addition, sub-vertical fractures striking NW-SE above ~500 m, and sub-horizontal fractures between ~ 500-820 m below ground, are interpreted as exhumation-related joints and inherited hydrofractures respectively. Finally, we recognise metre-thick fault zones similar to those identified from BHTV logs and cores in the nearby DFDP-1B borehole. The three fracture set orientations, and observed fault zones, promote high hydraulic connectivity in the Alpine Fault hangingwall, which fosters fluid flow.  This thesis helps quantify the geometrical parameters of fractures and their associated uncertainties in non-sedimentary settings, which are required to constrain numerical models and unravel fluid flow pathways in heterogeneous rocks. We identified lithological, tectonic and thermal controls on fracture geometries, which can constrain conditions and processes by which these fractures formed, and improve the prediction of fracture system architecture away from sparse borehole observations. The results of this thesis are relevant to similar lithological and tectonic settings elsewhere where observations are scarce. This study has also yielded an essential fracture dataset for better understanding of the structural and hydrological conditions at depth near the Alpine Fault prior to a large earthquake.


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License

Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline


Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code

970104 Expanding Knowledge in the Earth Sciences

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Geography, Environment and Earth Sciences


Townend, John; Nicol, Andrew; McNamara, David