Fault zone thickness and permeability are key parameters used to calculate fault transmissibility multipliers in sub-surface fluid flow models. Previous studies of faults in different lithological sequences suggest that fault zone thickness scales with throw, with 3-4 orders of magnitude thickness variation for any given throw. In this study, we use Terrestrial Laser Scanning (TLS) techniques to capture the detailed centimetre to metre scale thicknesses and fault rock distributions of post-depositional faults from the Carboniferous Northumberland Basin, NE England. The faults have throws spanning 0.1-20 m and crucially if we are to better understand scaling fault thickness scaling appear to have developed contemporaneously at broadly the same stratigraphic level within an interbedded sandstone/shale sequence exposed in the Dehli open cast coal site. TLS has been of critical importance in enabling us to collect quantitative data from large, unstable working faces up to 100 m high) within the mine.
The faults comprise complex arrays of structural elements including: splays and oversteps; drag folds; rotated fault-bounded blocks; sub-parallel fracture sets and ductile shear zones; cataclastic sandstone lenses; and intensely deformed scaly gouge zones. Preliminary observations suggest that fault zone thickness scales with throw, although there are significant dip- and strike-parallel variations in the thicknesses of individual fault traces. Regions of greatest fault zone width appear to be associated with or to have been derived from splays and oversteps. We propose that the observed scaling relationships can be explained by elastic interactions between fault segments that may have increasingly wide separations as displacement on the fault zone accumulates.
Our observations also suggest that cataclastic sandstone lenses (sand smears) occur along many fault traces and locally provide connectivity between sandstone beds in the footwall and hangingwall of the fault. Analysis of field and TLS data suggests that sandstone beds within fault overlaps fracture along pre- or syn-tectonic quartz-pyrite veins, whose spacing appears to be related to the original thicknesses of the host beds. Block rotations within the overlap zones are accommodated by progressive fracturing and cataclastic flow, which may ultimately lead to the development of sand smears and the possibility of fluid flow across otherwise sealing structures.