A review of shear wave splitting in the crack-critical crust

Stuart Crampin, Sebastien Chastin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

156 Citations (Scopus)


Over the last 15 years, it has become established that crack-induced stress-aligned shear wave splitting, with azimuthal anisotropy, is an inherent characteristic of almost all rocks in the crust. This means that most in situ rocks are pervaded by fluid-saturated microcracks and consequently are highly compliant. The evolution of such stress-aligned fluid-saturated grain-boundary cracks and pore throats in response to changing conditions can be calculated, in some cases with great accuracy, using anisotropic poro-elasticity (APE). APE is tightly constrained with no free parameters, yet dynamic modelling with APE currently matches a wide range of phenomena concerning anisotropy, stress, shear waves and cracks. In particular, APE has allowed the anisotropic response of a reservoir to injection to be calculated (predicted with hindsight), and the time and magnitude of an earthquake to be correctly stress-forecast. The reason for this calculability and predictability is that the microcracks in the crust are so closely spaced that they form critical systems. This crack-critical crust leads to a new style of geophysics that has profound implications for almost all aspects of pre-fracturing deformation of the crust and for solid-earth geophysics and geology.We review past, present and speculate about the future of shear wave splitting in the crack-critical crust. Shear wave splitting is seen to be a dynamic measure of the deformation of the rock mass. There is some good news and some bad news for conventional geophysics. Many accepted phenomena are no longer valid at high spatial and temporal resolution. A major effect is that the detailed crack geometry changes with time and varies from place to place in response to very small previously negligible changes. However, at least in some circumstances, the behaviour of the rock in the highly complex inhomogeneous Earth may be calculated and the response predicted, opening the way to possible control by feedback. The need is to devise ways to exploit these new opportunities in the crack-critical crust.Recent observations from the SMSITES Project at Húsavík in Northern Iceland, gathered while this review was being written, display the extraordinarily sensitivity of in situ rock to small changes at great distances. The effects are far too large to occur in a conventional elastic brittle crust, and their presence confirms the highly compliant nature of the crack-critical crust.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)221-240
Number of pages20
JournalGeophysical Journal International
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2003


  • anisotropy
  • compliance
  • crack-critical crust
  • fracture criticality
  • shear wave splitting


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