Fracture and permeability analysis of the Santana Tuff, Trans-Pecos Texas



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A fracture and permeability analysis was performed on the Santana Tuff because of its similarity to the Topopah Springs unit at the Yucca Mountain site. The Topopah Springs unit is the proposed horizon for the spent nuclear fuel repository. Because of the impossibility of completely characterizing the flow properties of the unit without destroying the characteristics that make it desirable as a repository, other ash flow tuffs must be studied. The Santana Tuff and the Topopah Springs tuff both are rhyolitic in composition, nonwelded to densely welded and fractured. Fractures were examined at six outcrop locations spanning a five mile area. Stereonets and rose diagrams were constructed from over 312 fracture orientations. Although the composite data showed two major orientations of nearly vertical fractures, fracture trends at individual outcrops showed a variety of preferred orientations. Over 900 surface permeability measurements were taken using a mini-permeameter. The samples were categorized by three observed types of surface weathering: fresh, weathered, or varnished. Fracture surfaces were generally classified as weathered. The average permeabilities for the samples are 55.33 millidarcies, 5.03 millidarcies, and 3.31 millidarcies, respectively. The one-way statistical analysis performed on the data indicated that the permeability of fresh tuff surfaces is significantly different than both the permeabilities of the weathered and varnished tuffs, using both a least significant difference and greatest significant difference test. However, no difference was shown to exist between the weathered and varnished tuff permeabilities. Samples of fresh, weathered, and varnished tuffs were examined by X-Ray Defraction, the Scanning Electron Microscope, and in thin section. The SEM analysis showed surface differences between the three weathering classifications. The weathered and varnished samples were similar, exhibiting a platy, lamellate texture. The fresh surfaces were irregular and jagged. In thin section, a thin rind of dark minerals (FE-oxides) is observed on the edges of the varnished samples and in microcracks. This fills surface pores and causes the reduction in permeability. Two other zones of weathering have been identified in some of the samples, which may also cause changes in permeability. Tuff permeabilities were also analyzed for directional dependence. After an ash flow tuff is deposited and cooled, it may undergo flattening of pumice fragments and glass shards. These flattened fragments can be identified in handsamples, and are indicative of the direction of flow emplacement. The analysis showed that permeability is enhanced parallel to the emplacement direction, which is generally horizontal. Cut surfaces showed a 30% decrease in permeability perpendicular to flow direction. On varnished surfaces, this trend is still evident, although decreased in magnitude. This is expected because of the clay particles which make up the desert varnish. This study indicates that the formation of low permeability weathering rinds in association with vertical fractures may inhibit infiltration at the surface. It may accelerate infiltration at depth and allow more fluid to penetrate vertically into the tuff. In the event that fluid is absorbed into the matrix, it will travel horizontally, along the enhanced permeability parallel to the emplacement direction.