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Durham University

Department of Earth Sciences


Publication details for Dr Fabian Wadsworth

Heap, Michael J., Gilg, H. Albert, Byrne, Paul K., Wadsworth, Fabian B. & Reuschlé, Thierry (2020). Petrophysical properties, mechanical behaviour, and failure modes of impact melt-bearing breccia (suevite) from the Ries impact crater (Germany). Icarus 349: 113873.

Author(s) from Durham


The physical properties and mechanical behaviour of impactites are an important parameter in fluid flow models and slope stability and landscape evolution assessments for heavily impacted planetary bodies. We first present porosity, permeability, Young's modulus, and uniaxial compressive strength measurements for three suevites from the Ries impact crater (Germany). Porosity ranges from 0.18 to 0.43, permeability from 5.8 × 10−16 to 5.1 × 10−14 m2, Young's modulus from 1.4 to 8.1 GPa, and uniaxial compressive strength from 7.3 to 48.6 MPa. To explore their mechanical behaviour, we performed triaxial deformation experiments on these samples at a range of confining pressures. The brittle–ductile transition for the lowest (0.25) and highest (0.38) porosity suevite samples was at a confining pressure of ~30 and ~10 MPa, respectively (corresponding to, for example, depths respectively of ~1 and ~4 km on Mars). Microstructural observations show that the dominant deformation micromechanism during brittle deformation is microcracking, and during ductile deformation is cataclastic pore collapse. We show that a theoretically grounded permeability model for welded granular media accurately captures the permeability of the studied suevites, and we use micromechanical models to glean insight as to their mechanical behaviour. Finally, we upscale our laboratory measurements to provide physical property values for length scales more relevant for large-scale models, and we compare these data with those for basalt (a lithology representative of the surface of the inner Solar System bodies). These analyses show how macroscopic fractures serve to increase the permeability and decrease the strength and Young's modulus of suevite; for example, we find that basalt can be a factor of 2–5 stronger than suevite in the shallow crust. Our study suggests, therefore, that the rock masses comprising older, bombarded crusts are substantially weaker and more porous and permeable than the younger plains material on these bodies. These findings should be considered in large-scale fluid flow modelling and when providing crustal strength estimates or slope stability assessments for planetary bodies on which protracted records of impact bombardment are preserved.