The capillary pressure vs. saturation curve for a fractured rock mass: fracture and matrix contributions

Alejandro Cardona, Qi Liu*, J. Carlos Santamarina

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The fractal topography of fracture surfaces challenges the upscaling of laboratory test results to the field scale, therefore the study of rock masses often requires numerical experimentation. We generate digital fracture analogues and model invasion percolation to investigate the capillarity-saturation Pc -Sw fracture response to changes in boundary conditions. Results show that aperture is Gaussian-distributed and the coefficient of variation is scale-independent. The aperture contraction during normal stress increments causes higher capillary pressures and steeper Pc -Sw curves, while shear displacement results in invasion anisotropy. The three-parameter van Genutchen model adequately fits the fracture capillary response in all cases; the capillary entry value decreases with fracture size, yet the fracture Pc -Sw curve normalized by the entry value is size-independent. Finally, we combine the fracture and matrix response to infer the rock mass response. Fracture spacing, aperture statistics and matrix porosity determine the rock mass capillarity-saturation Pc -Sw curve. Fractures without gouge control the entry pressure whereas the matrix regulates the residual saturation at high capillary pressure Pc.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number12044
JournalScientific Reports
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2023

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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