We report on a new mechanical principle, which suggests that a confined liquid in the elastic lithosphere has the potential to transmit a maximum applied compressive stress. This stress can be transmitted to the internal contacts between rock and liquid and would then be transformed into a normal compressive stress with tangential tensile stress components. During this process, both effective compressive normal stress and tensile tangential stresses arise along the liquid–rock contact. The minimum effective tensile tangential stress causes the surrounding rock to rupture. Liquid-driven fracture initiates at the point along the rock–liquid boundary where the maximum compressive stress is applied and propagates along a plane that is perpendicular to the minimum effective tensile tangential stress and also is perpendicular to the minimum principal stress.
Liquid-driven fractures and dikes propagate along the axes of cylindrical zones that are perpendicular to the minimum compressive principal stress in rocks in non-tectonic regions. The minimum depth for liquid-driven fracture, which is induced by a spherical confined liquid and an isolated magma chamber in the elastic lithosphere, ranges from 2 to 6 km, whereas dikes with hemi-cylinder-shaped ends propagate upwards closer to the surface under gravity. Transmission of pumping pressure, i.e. the pressure differences on the underside of a dike that is connected with a chamber, from the source magma chamber to intermediate and shallow chambers increases liquid pressure and also the effective tensile tangential stress and therefore leads to new fractures and dike formation and to upwards transport of magmas that have stagnated in the intermediate chamber.
Tectonic stress alters local stress fields in the surrounding country rocks and therefore synchronously varies the local effective tensile tangential stress and the nature and geometry of the liquid-driven fractures.
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