In a previous study (Dautriat et al., 2008), we have studied the macroscopic hydro-mechanical behavior of a moderately heterogeneous carbonate reservoir analogue, undergoing triaxial testing along several proportional stress paths, ranging from hydrostatic compression -to- axial compression. Evolutions of permeabilities and compressibilities during loading have been measured and correlated and the yield envelope has been determined. Structural heterogeneities have been shown to strongly affect the initiation of brittle and plastic damages. There is a trend to interpret the macroscopic response in term of micro- mechanisms without actual observation and identification. While post-mortem characterization techniques (HPMI, SEM and XR CT / μ-CT images) inform qualitatively on the damage mechanisms activated at the grain and aggregate scales, a quantitative and continuous micro- mechanical investigation is needed to follow the history of the deformation and the localization during compression. We have therefore performed in-situ observations during loading at different scales. First, small samples have been deformed by simple compression inside a SEM, in order to identify the physical deformation and damage micro-mechanisms responsible for the evolutions of the transport properties. Then, larger samples have been subjected to axial compression in a hydraulic press and have been observed by optical methods, in order to better understand the complex interactions governing the macroscopic behavior. Observations of the micro-mechanisms during mechanical tests are difficult for geomaterials because the levels of deformation are low (below the percent), but feasible with some care and appropriate recording devices; different regions of small parallelipipedic samples have been imaged using different magnifications to focus either on grain or contact, or to visualize the aggregates. Direct optical observations on bigger cylindrical samples, mechanically loaded on conventional UCS testing machines, have also been performed at two different scales by means of high resolution digital cameras. On one side, the full sample is imaged (≈ 20μm resolution) in order to characterize the overall response. On the opposite spot side, a centimetric area has been considered (≈ 3μm resolution), at which scale the composite nature of the rock made of microporous and dense calcite grains is revealed. Those two scales imaging experiments have been combined with efficient Digital Image Correlation (DIC) post-treatments, able to detect very small displacements and evolutions of the microstructures (strain accuracy better than 10 −3). The comparisons of SEM images taken stepwise, reveal deformations hardly detectable by conventional observations, such as: opening or closure of pre-existing microcracks, nucleation of new microcracks and relative movements at grain interfaces. Different strain accommodation regimes are also observed in dense and microporous grains, respectively brittle and diffuse. The movies at sample scale show that the heterogeneity of strain is correlated to the local distribution of the aggregates, which confirms the post-mortem observations.
The method of local displacement measurement and strain field computation by correlation of digital images acquired at different steps of a mechanical test (either continuous or incremental), is a powerful tool for the characterization the mechanical behavior of heterogeneous materials (Chu et al., 1985; Bruck et al., 1989).