Effects of overburden on joint spacing in layered rocks

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When a layered system of rock beds is subjected to a sufficiently large extensional strain, joints form in the competent layers. Previous analyses have shown that the ratio between joint spacing and competent layer thickness decreases as the applied strain increases. Further, if the entire interface between the competent layer and the matrix fails in shear (slip), no new joints can form and a lower bound on the joint spacing is reached. In this paper, a joint spacing analysis is developed to explicitly account for the effects of overburden depth. The resulting model is a pair of non-linear equations that can be solved for the characteristic joint spacing as a function of layer thickness, applied strain, and overburden depth. The model results show that, for a given applied strain, the joint spacing first decreases and then increases with depth. This behavior is controlled by the opposing effects of depth-increasing shear strength along the competent layer-matrix interface and depth-increasing compressive prestress. The analysis also reveals that the lower bound (saturation) joint spacing is strongly dependent on depth. Within the choice of realistic physical parameters, predicted values of the saturation-spacing-to-layer-thickness ratio span the range of values observed in the field.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)288-297
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Structural Geology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2007

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work is partially supported by the National Center for Earth-surface Dynamics (NCED), a Science and Technology Center funded by the Office of Integrative Activities of the National Science Foundation. The authors would also like to thank the journal reviewers and editors, their comments have made a significant contribution to the quality of this paper.


  • Interfacial slip
  • Joint spacing
  • Shear-lag
  • Tectonic strain


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