Seismically Initiated Carbon Dioxide Gas Bubble Growth in Groundwater: A Mechanism for Co-seismic Borehole Water Level Rise and Remotely Triggered Secondary Seismicity
AuthorCrews, Jackson Buzz
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Visualization experiments, core-scale laboratory experiments, and numerical simulations were conducted to examine the transient effect of dilational seismic wave propagation on pore fluid pressure in aquifers hosting groundwater that is near saturation with respect to dissolved carbon dioxide (CO2) gas. Groundwater can become charged with dissolved CO2 through contact with gas-phase CO2 in the Earth's crust derived from magma degasing, metamorphism, and biogenic processes. The propagation of dilational seismic waves (e.g., Rayleigh and p-waves) causes oscillation of the mean normal confining stress and pore fluid pressure. When the amplitude of the pore fluid pressure oscillation is large enough to drive the pore fluid pressure below the bubble pressure, an aqueous-to-gas-phase transition can occur in the pore space, which causes a buildup of pore fluid pressure and reduces the inter-granular effective stress under confined conditions. In visualization experiments conducted in a Hele-Shaw cell representing a smooth-walled, vertically oriented fracture, millisecond-scale pressure perturbations triggered bubble nucleation and growth lasting tens of seconds, with resulting pore fluid overpressure proportional to the magnitude of the pressure perturbation. In a Berea sandstone core flooded with initially under-saturated aqueous CO2 under conditions representative of a confined aquifer, rapid reductions in confining stress triggered transient pore pressure rise up to 0.7 MPa (100 psi) overpressure on a timescale of ~10 hours. The rate of pore pressure buildup in the first 100 seconds was proportional to the saturation with respect to dissolved CO2 at the pore pressure minimum. Sinusoidal confining stress oscillations on a Berea sandstone core produced excess pore fluid pressure after the oscillations were terminated. Confining stress oscillations in the 0.1-0.4 MPa (15-60 psi) amplitude range and 0.05-0.30 Hz frequency band increased the pore fluid pressure by 13-60 cm of freshwater. Co-seismic borehole water level increases of the same magnitude were observed in Parkfield, California, and Long Valley caldera, California, in response to the propagation of a Rayleigh wave in the same amplitude and frequency range produced by the June 28, 1992 MW 7.3 Landers, California, earthquake. Co-seismic borehole water level rise is well documented in the literature, but the mechanism is not well understood, and the results of core-scale experiments indicate that seismically initiated CO2 gas bubble nucleation and growth in groundwater is a reasonable mechanism. Remotely triggered secondary seismicity is also well documented, and the reduction of effective stress due to CO2 bubble nucleation and growth in critically loaded faults may potentially explain how, for example, the June 28, 1992 MW 7.3 Landers, California, earthquake triggered seismicity as far away as Yellowstone, Wyoming, 1250 km from the hypocenter. A numerical simulation was conducted using Euler's method and a first-order kinetic model to compute the pore fluid pressure response to confining stress excursions on a Berea sandstone core flooded with initially under-saturated aqueous CO2. The model was calibrated on the pore pressure response to a rapid drop and later recovery of the confining stress. The model predicted decreasing overpressure as the confining stress oscillation frequency increased from 0.05 Hz to 0.30 Hz, in contradiction with the experimental results and field observations, which exhibit larger excess pore fluid pressure in response to higher frequency oscillations. The limitations of the numerical model point to the important influence of non-ideal behavior arising from a discontinuous gas phase and complex dynamics at the gas-liquid interface.
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