Sinking of anhydrite blocks within a Newtonian salt diapir: Modelling the influence of block aspect ratio and salt stratification

Steffi Burchardt, Hemin Koyi, Harro Schmeling, Lukas Fuchs

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14 Scopus citations


2-D Finite Differences models are used to analyse the strain produced by gravity-driven sinking of dense rectangular inclusions through homogeneous and vertically stratified Newtonian salt. We systematically modelled the descent of dense blocks of different sizes and initial orientations (aspect ratios) representing the Main Anhydrite fragments documented within, for example, the Gorleben salt diapir. Model results demonstrate that size of the blocks is a governing parameter which dictates the amount of strain produced within the block and in the surrounding host salt. Initial block orientation (aspect ratio), on the other hand, causes fundamental differences in block deformation, while the resulting structures produced in the salt are principally the same in all models with homogeneous salt, covering shear zones and folding of passive markers. In models with vertically stratified salt with different viscosities, block descent takes place along complex paths. This results from greater strain accommodation by the 'salt formation' with the lowest viscosity and an asymmetrical distribution of initial vertical shear stresses around the block. Consequently, in these models, block strain is lower compared with the models with homogeneous salt (for the same viscosity as the high-viscosity salt), and sinking is accompanied by block rotation. The latter causes diapir-scale disturbance of the pre-sinking salt stratigraphy and complex sinking paths of the blocks. In particular, vertically oriented blocks sink into high-viscosity salt and drag with them some low-viscosity salt, while horizontal blocks sink in the low-viscosity salt. The resultant sinking velocities vary strongly depending on the sinking path of the block. Based on model results and observed structural configuration within the Gorleben salt diapir, we conclude that the internal complexity of a salt diapir governs its post-ascent deformation. Salt structure and its interaction with dense blocks should hence be considered in the assessment of the long-term stability of storage sites for hazardous waste.

Original languageBritish English
Pages (from-to)763-778
Number of pages16
JournalGeophysical Journal International
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2012


  • Diapir and diapirism
  • Fracture and flow
  • High strain deformation zones


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