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DOI 10.1007/s10706-016-9978-9


In-Situ Stress State and Tectonic Regime in Different Depths

of Earth Crust
Mohammad Hossein Taherynia .
Seyed Mahmoud Fatemi Aghda .
Ahmad Fahimifar

Received: 30 June 2015 / Accepted: 2 January 2016

Ó Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016

Abstract In this paper by consideration of tectonic changes and resulted in a nonlinear decrease of K value
conditions along with theoretical and empirical rela- with depth.
tionships, a new strategy for estimation of the variation
range of lateral stress coefficients [K = 0.5(Sh ? Keywords In-situ stresses  Lateral stress
SH)/SV] at different depths is presented. Tectonic coefficient  Tectonic regime  Faulting theory
regime is the main factor affecting the in situ stress
arrangement, and therefore, the lateral stress coeffi-
cient in the earth’s crust. Based on tectonic regimes and
the associated in situ stress arrangements, the upper 1 Introduction
and lower bound of K value are determined in reverse
and normal faulting tectonic regimes, respectively. Measurement of in situ stresses in different geological
Another limiting factor of in situ stress magnitudes and locations in the world indicates significant variation of
the K values at different depths is strength of the earth’s horizontal stresses and the lateral-stress coefficient,
crust. The horizontal stresses in active tectonic regions especially in shallow depths. At greater depth, the
are considered as the horizontal stress due to overbur- range of K narrows considerably and the value of K
den loading and additional horizontal tectonic stresses shows a highly nonlinear decrease with depth. At
(DSTec), therefore, horizontal stresses are assumed as depths [4 km the observed values of K are generally
combination of two main parts; first part depends on the \1. Neither Heim’s rule (K = 1) nor the biaxial stress
depth and the second part is independent of the depth. model provide a reasonable explanation for the data
Based on the results of this study, increase in horizontal trends (Zang and Stephansson 2009; Zang et al. 2012).
stresses is due to the increasing in the overburden Also, many researchers have reported a change of
loading, while the additional tectonic stresses remain tectonic regime with depth with regard to the in situ
constant, is the main reason of the tectonic regime stress measurements at different depths (Kang et al.
2010; Rummel et al. 1986). For instance, in situ stress
measurements in Björkö geothermal project near
M. H. Taherynia  S. M. Fatemi Aghda (&)
Department of Geological Sciences, Kharazmi University, Stockholm, Sweden, at depths \400–500 m proved
Tehran, Iran the reverse faulting stress state, while with increasing
e-mail: the depth more than 500 m the stress arrangement is
changed to strike-slip faulting regime (Ask and
A. Fahimifar
Department of Civil Engineering, Amirkabir University of Stephansson 2003). Also, hydraulic fracturing tests
Technology, Tehran, Iran in a 5110 m deep oil well in the Michigan Basin,

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indicated a change in tectonic regime with depth: present at local or regional scales, cannot be considered
thrust faulting from 0 to 200 m, strike-slip faulting as the main reasons for the stress decoupling.
from 200 to 4500 m and normal faulting at depths In this paper, by studying the theoretical and
[4500 m (Haimson 1977). Plumb, studied the results empirical relationships being suggested for determin-
of 1000 hydraulic fracturing tests in sedimentary rocks ing the horizontal stresses and the lateral stress
(Plumb 1994), and concluded that the reverse faulting coefficient, a possible range of K values is proposed
is the dominant tectonic regime in the upper 1 km, but for each tectonic regime with considering the stress
it changes to strike-slip or normal faulting regimes at arrangement in different tectonic regimes based on
the greater depths. Changing of stress regimes with Anderson’s faulting theory and the allowable relative
depth is referred to as stress decoupling and can occur stress magnitudes based on the frictional faulting
for various reasons, e.g. a marked hiatus in the theory. Also, considering the stress states in different
stratigraphy like, a basement-cover situation, different tectonic regimes, a new perspective is presented for
lithology in a rock sequence, non-persistent far-field explanation of the non-linear decrease of K value and
boundary stresses, post-glacial lithosphere flexure and the stress decoupling with depth.
major discontinuities intersecting the area (Stephans-
son and Zang 2012).
Post-glacial lithosphere flexure is explained for 2 Theoretical and Empirical Relationships
stress change with depth and horizontally distance in
many area such as Fennoscandia where was covered Due to difficulties and high costs of in situ stress
by Baltic ice sheet. Two simplified end-member measuring tests, development of theoretical and empir-
models to explained effect of glaciation-deglaciation ical relationships for prediction of in situ stresses have
loading–unloading cycle on the local stress field are been always an interesting task for many researchers.
presented by Stephansson (1988) and Stein et al. The uniaxial strain theory and the relationships derived
(1989). Based on Stephansson (1988) proposed model by Eaton (1969) can be considered as the basis of
the bending stresses did not relaxed during the theoretical relationships for estimation of horizontal
existence of the ice sheet and subsequent melting of stresses. Based on uniaxial strain theory, horizontal
the ice sheet expected that induced compression stress stresses are induced simply as a result of the vertical
at shallow depth (\5 km) and tensional stress at the stress and equating to stresses required to completely
base of the lithosphere under the former ice sheet. But restrain the lateral deformations of an elastic body acted
in the away from ice sheet the stress decupling are upon by this vertical stress (Brown and Hoek 1978).
inverted i.e. compression stress at shallow depth and According to this theory the two horizontal stresses will
tensional stress at the base of the lithosphere. In Stein be a fraction of the vertical stress, and, therefore the
et al. (1989) model induced bending stresses in the horizontal to vertical stress ratio is lower than 1.
lithosphere under ice sheet relaxed and unloading However, data provided from horizontal stresses
leads to tensional stress at shallow depth and com- measured in many regions show significant differences
pression stress at the base of the lithosphere under the with the results of this approach. In-situ stress measure-
former ice sheet. As shown in the two models stress ments indicated that the two principal horizontal stresses
state changes in the lithosphere thickness but in all are in general not equal and can be several times greater
mentioned cases stress decupling interval ([3 km) is than the vertical stress especially at shallow depths (Fjær
very limited with compared to lithosphere thickness et al. 2008). Tectonic stress is ascribed, by many
(30–50 km). Therefore it seems that the post-glacial investigators, as one of the main reasons for the
lithosphere flexure despite good explained for stress observed difference (Blanton and Olson 1999; Brown
perturbations over a horizontal distance, con not and Hoek 1978; Fjær et al. 2008; Sone and Zoback 2014;
explained the stress decupling with depths in the Zang et al. 2012; Zang and Stephansson 2008).
small interval. Many researchers, by using the provided data from
Also, such stress regime changes at different depths is stress measurements at specific sites and/or regions,
a common phenomenon and it has been reported in proposed empirical relationships for the variation of
many regions with different geological conditions, it vertical and horizontal stresses with depth (Brown and
seems that the reasons mentioned above, that usually are Hoek 1978; Herget 1974; Stephansson 1993; Zang and

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Stephansson 2009). In-situ stress measurements indi- in tectonically active regions. According to Zoback
cated that the vertical stress magnitude can be and Zoback (2002), the state of stress in the brittle
estimated by the overburden weight in most regions upper crust is dominated by large-scale tectonic
(Amadei and Stephansson 1997; Brown and Hoek processes.
1978; Herget 1974; Zang et al. 2012). According to Based on Anderson’s faulting theory (Anderson
Brown and Hoek (1978) the vertical stress increases 1951) the arrangement of principal stresses (S1, S2, &
linearly with depth as is shown in Fig. 1. S3) can be related to the style of currently active faults,
Also Brown and Hoek (1978) presented two that would be induced by a given tectonic regime in a
envelopes that provide rough bounds for lateral stress region. According to Anderson faulting theory, in a
coefficient (K): normal faulting (N) regime SV is the greatest principal
stress (S1) and Sh is the least principal stress at depth
0:1 1:5
þ 0:3  K  þ 0:5 ð1Þ (SV C SH C Sh) and therefore the value of K in this
z z
regime is\1, while in the reverse faulting (RF) regime
where z is the depth below the ground surface in the stress field is very compressive and both horizontal
kilometers. stresses exceed the vertical stress (SH C Sh C SV)
After Brown and Hoek (1978) other researchers and, therefore, the value of K in this regime is always
collected more data of stress measurements from [1. The strike-slip faulting (SS) regime represents an
different regions and modified the lower bound to intermediate stress state where the vertical stress is
K = 1/3 that is equal to the lateral stress coefficient of a greater than the minimum horizontal stress and less
biaxial stress model for t = 0.25 (Zang and Stephans- than the maximum horizontal stress (SH C Sv C Sh),
son 2008). As is shown in Fig. 1b, K converges to a thus the value of K in this regime is about 1.
value of unity (K ? 1) at depths [3 km, which is Bearing in mind that all rocks at depth essentially
consistent with time-dependent elimination of shear contain pre-existing fractures and faults with different
stress in rock (Heim’s rule) (Talobre 1957). orientations, domains of variation of in situ stress
components at different depths can be restricted by the
frictional strength of optimally oriented faults, by
3 The Tectonic Regimes and the Stress State considering the difference between the maximum (r1)
in a Region and minimum (r3) effective principal stresses con-
trolling rock mass failure (Townend and Zoback 2000;
Tectonic processes have an important influence on the Zoback and Healy 1984; Zoback 2010). Based on
in situ stresses and can even change the arrangements frictional faulting theory they suggested that an upper

Fig. 1 Variation of vertical

stress and lateral stress
coefficients (K) with depth
according to Brown and
Hoek (1978) [modified after
Brady and Brown (2004)]

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Fig. 2 Stress state of different fault types based on Anderson theory (Zang and Stephansson 2009)

bound could be estimated for the ratio of r1 and r3 by state in the three types of faulting regimes and the
using the following equation (Jaeger and Cook 1979): associated states of stress in Mohr space as shown in
r1 S1  p h 2 1=2 i2 Fig. 2.
¼  l þ1 þl ð2Þ Therefore, in the normal faulting regime (SV -
r3 S3  p
C SH C Sh) the upper bound for the ratio of vertical
where p is the pore pressure and l is the coefficient of effective stress (r1) and minimum horizontal effective
frictional sliding on pre-existing faults that are opti- stress (r3), i.e. 1/K0 is given by:
mally oriented for slip in the existing stress field.
1 SV  p r1 h 2 1=2 i2
Commonly, the coefficient of friction is assumed equal ¼ ¼  l þ 1 þl ð3Þ
K 0 Sh  p r 3
to 0.6 (Zoback et al. 2003). As is mentioned, by using
Anderson’s faulting theory, it can be determined that The lower bound of the lateral stress coefficient can
the in situ principal stresses (i.e. SH, Sh, or Sv) thus be calculated using Eq. (3) as Kh C 0.32 (as-
correspond to S1, S2 and S3, with the principal stress suming l = 0.6). With respect to Eq. (3), it should be

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noted it is written in terms of effective stresses K

yielding a value of the effective lateral stress coeffi- 0 1 2 3
cient (K0 ). It should be noted that using total stress a

larger value for K is obtained. Therefore, assuming p is
non_zero, the calculated value of K0 using Eq. (3)
yields a lower bound for K.
In a similar manner, in the reverse faulting regime 1

Depht (km)
(SH C Sh C SV), the upper bound of the ratio of


horizontal to vertical effective stresses, i.e. K0 value 1.5 K=1.5/Z+0.5
can be calculated as:
SH  p r1 h 2 1=2 i2 2
K0 ¼ ¼  l þ1 þl ð4Þ NORMAL FAULTING
SV  p r 3
This equation gives the upper bound of K 2.5
(KH B 3.12, assuming l = 0.6). The K value
obtained from Eq. (4), similar to K obtained from 3
Eq. (3), is the effective K value. However, unlike K0
Fig. 3 Domain of variation of K in different tectonic regimes
obtained from Eq. (3), the K0 value obtained from
[data from Jamison and Cook (1978)]
Eq. (4) is the maximum value of K, and if total stresses
are used a smaller value would be calculated for K.
Therefore, the effective K calculated by Eq. (4) can be
assumed as the upper bound of K. Also, the same related with strike-slip faulting is equal to 0.32
relationship applied for the strike-slip (SS) faulting (assuming l = 0.6). Data from the World Stress
regime suggests the ratios of maximum and minimum Map (WSM) project for minimum and maximum
horizontal effective stresses will not exceed: horizontal stresses (Zang et al. 2012) is shown in
Fig. 4. The dashed red line in Fig. 4 shows the lower
SH  p r1 h 2 1=2 i2
bound of the Sh/SH as calculated from Eq. (4). As is
¼  l þ1 þl ð5Þ
Sh  p r3 evident, good correlation exists around the linear
Considering the above discussions, it can be regression line of Sh = 0.57 SH. It is necessary to
concluded that the domain of variations of K value mention that the stress data is collected from world-
in the normal faulting regime is between 0.32 and wide with different tectonic conditions.
1(0.32 \ K \ 1), and in the reverse faulting regime is According to Anderson’s faulting theory, as shown
between 1 and 3.12 (1 \ K \ 3.12). The expected in Fig. 2, it can be concluded that in the normal
range and the in situ measurement values of K in faulting regime difference of SH and Sh is minimum,
different tectonic regimes are shown in Fig. 3. however, in the strike-slip faulting regime difference
As is shown in Fig. 3 most of the lateral-stress of SH and Sh is maximum, and it is verified by in situ
coefficient points fall within the expected ranges. Only stress measurement database. According to the
a few points plot outside the expected ranges which database provided by Zang et al. (2012) the main
could be due to neglecting the cohesive strength of values of Sh/SH in NF, RF, and SS faulting regimes are
faults in the friction faulting theory or due to mismatch equal to 0.64, 0.57, and 0.53, respectively.
of mapped fault type. At significant depth, the effect of
cohesive strength is relatively unimportant compared
to the frictional strength of any fault, and thus can be 4 Variation of the Lateral Stress Coefficient
neglected, as suggested in Jaeger and Cook’s relation- and Tectonic Regimes with Depth
ship (Eq. 2). However, at shallower depth this may not
be true (Zoback et al. 2003). As is mentioned above, horizontal stresses at depth
Some insight on the ratio of Sh/SH can be estimated induced as a result of the vertical stress (SV) and the
by studying faulting regimes in strike-slip regimes. additional tectonic stresses (DSTec) can be expressed
According to Eq. 5 the minimum value of Sh/SH as follows:

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Fangquan and Yingnan (1990) suggested an upper

bound estimation equation for data from across China,
that can be rewritten as below:
ShðavÞ ¼ 0:5SV þ 11:9 ð8Þ

According to Eq. (8) Sv = Sh(av) at a depth of

0.88 km, and therefore, it is not expected that at a
greater depth than this there would be a reverse
faulting stress state in the studied region. Kang et al.
(2010) presented 97 stress data records from coal
mines in China that number of in situ stress measure-
ments records with reverse and normal to strike-slip
faulting regimes at different depths are presented in
Fig. 4 Variation of minimum and maximum horizontal stresses
(Zang et al. 2012) and expected upper and lower bounds based Table 1.
on Anderson and fractional faulting theory As can be observed from Table 1, a reverse faulting
stress state is absent in the data for any depths[0.6 km
in the studied area. According to Eq. (8) and similarly
Sh ¼ kSV þ DSTec ð6Þ to Eq. (7) the value of k remains equal to 0.5, but the
where k is the pure lateral stress coefficient that can be value of the additional tectonic stress which is a
calculated by using the uniaxial strain theory (Eaton regional parameter changes. Although this additional
1969). By substituting SV = 27z MPa/km in the upper term shows a wide range of variation, it should be
bound of the lateral stress coefficient (Eq. 1), the mentioned that as it is related to plate tectonics-
following equation is obtained: induced stresses, these can be considered the same for
a large area which have uniform tectonic conditions.
ShðavÞ ¼ 0:5SV þ 40:5 ð7Þ Herget (1993) studies on the stress condition of
Equations (6) and (7) have similar algebraic form and Canadian Shield indicated that the tectonic stresses
can be divided into two terms: The first term contains are typically very uniform over areas larger than
the vertical stress and therefore, depends on depth, 10,000 km2.
while the second term is independent of depth and In addition to mentioned relationships, there are
depends on the tectonic regime of the area. Thus, the several relationships that presented by different
first term of Eq. (6) can be considered as the part of authors for expression of horizontal stress profile at
horizontal stress caused by vertical stress and the specific sites or for different regions of the world. For
second term can be considered as additional tectonic example, Haimson and Voight (1977) based on results
stress. At shallow depth, the second term is more of in situ stress measurements using hydrofracturing
important than the first term, however, with increasing test carried out in Reykjavik, Iceland, presented
depth and therefore, increasing SV, the first term equations for determination horizontal stress profiles
becomes more important than the second term, which that can be rewritten as:
becomes asymptotic to a constant value with depth. Sh ¼ 0:5SV þ 1:75 ðMPaÞ ð9Þ
Thus, based on Brown and Hoek (1978) equation
(Eq. 1) and Eqs. (6) and (7), it can be concluded that SH ¼ 0:5SV þ 4:2 ðMPaÞ ð10Þ
the value of pure lateral stress coefficient (k) does not
In this area, based on Eqs. (9) and (10), the stress
notably change with depth, and remains in range of
regime change from reverse to strike-slip is occurred
1/3–1/2. Based on Eq. (7) up to a depth of 3 km only
at depth of 0.125 km and it changed to normal faulting
(SV = 81 MPa) it can be expected that the minimum
at a depth of 0.3 km. The focal mechanism solutions
horizontal stress will remain greater than the vertical
indicted the strike-slip to normal faulting regime is
stress with reveres faulting stress conditions dominant,
dominated in the stress measured site (Einarsson
as is shown in Fig. 3.

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Table 1 In-situ stress state Depth (km) Reverse faulting Normal and strike slip faulting
at different depths of
Chinese underground coal 0.2 9 4
mines (Kang et al. 2010)
0.2–0.4 11 28
0.4–0.6 2 30
0.6 0 13

Herget (1987) presented a relationship for the K

average horizontal stress change with depth at the 0 0.32 1 2 3 4 5
Canadian shied that can be rewritten by assuming
Sv = 28.5 MPa/km (Herget 1993) as below form:
ShðavÞ ¼ 0:39SV þ 33:41 ðMPaÞ ð11Þ
According to the WSM (available online at http:// dominated stress regime
in at the Canadian shied is reverse faulting regime. 1
Also, rewritten form of relationships presented by
Baumgartner et al. (1991) for horizontal stress profiles

Depht (km)
at the KTB pilot hole are:
Sh ¼ 0:39SV þ 16 ðMPaÞ ð12Þ

SH ¼ 0:82SV þ 30:4 ðMPaÞ ð13Þ

Equations (12) and (13) indicated that the stress
regime change from reverse to strike-slip in depth
0.94 km and it changed to normal faulting at a depth of
6.03 km in the KTB hole. Based on the WSM the 2.5
reverse to strike-slip faulting regimes are dominated in
the adjacent area of the KTB pilot hole.
Based on relationships presented by Haimson et al. 3
(2003) for horizontal and vertical stress changes with
depth in South Korea, the horizontal stresses can be Fig. 5 Variations of K value with depth in a deep oil well in the
calculated in term of SV using bellow equations: southeast Asia with normal faulting regime and a deep hole in
the Ohio in east united states with reverse faulting regime, [data
Sh ¼ 0:34SV þ 3:65 ðMPaÞ ð14Þ selected from Zoback (2010)]

SH ¼ 0:6SV þ 6:16 ðMPaÞ ð15Þ

faulting dominant. Values of the lateral stress coeffi-
Based on Eqs. 14 and 15 the stress regime changes cient become more constant with an increase in depth
from reverse to strike-slip and strike-slip to normal and change the stress regime, from magnitudes of
faulting are occurred in depths of 0.21 km and greater than unity, which are characteristics of a
0.58 km, respectively. Earthquake focal mechanism reverse stress regime at shallow depth, shifting to
solutions indicate a dominant strike-slip faulting magnitudes less than unity, corresponding to a normal
regime in the stress measurement area (Jun et al. stress regime at great depth. Variations in the value of
1999). K in the reverse and normal faulting regimes are
As is mentioned above, with increasing depth there shown in Fig. 5.
is a decrease in the relative importance of the As is shown in Fig. 5, the values of K in the normal
additional tectonic stress (DSTec), thus the stress faulting regime almost remain constant at all depths as a
regime changes from reverse dominant to normal result of the insignificant (almost negligible)

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contribution of the additional tectonic stress component reverse faulting regime can lead to a significant errors
for the normal faulting regime. For example, based on in evaluation of in situ horizontal stresses. However, a
presented data by Valley and Evans (2007) from stress constant K value with depth can be considered realistic
measurement in depths of 1.5 to 5 km of a deep well at in a normal faulting regime.
Soultz, France, the K value changed only 0.01 in the
3.5 km interval of stress measurement (Kd=1.5km = 0.75
amd Kd=5km = 0.76). Based on the WSM the strike-slip
to normal faulting regimes are dominated in Soultz, References
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