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PRF2022 - A GSA Penrose Conference
Sponsored by NSF

What: A five-day conference with diverse keynote speakers, talks, posters, discussions, mentoring and a one-day field trip.

Why: Building on the success of PRF2017, we hope to foster a more robust and multidisciplinary understanding of the interdependencies of rock fracture and surface processes, hazards, infrastructure decay, weathering and climate change.

Who: Geomorphologists, rock physicists, stone heritage preservationists, geotechnical engineers, critical zone scientists and planetary geologists.

Where: Self-contained in a picturesque mountain retreat located in the Blue Ridge Mountains of west-central NC. Comfortable indoor and outdoor seating areas, walking trails, canoes, and swimming facilities will be available.

2020-06-12 14.21.39 HDR.jpg
2020-06-12 14.21.39 HDR.jpg


The progressive growth of fractures in rock directly impacts virtually all natural Earth surface systems and components of the built environment that involve rock. As rocks fracture in response to environmental, tectonic and topographic forces and factors, that crack growth itself changes rock strength, porosity and permeability. In turn, these changes impact natural processes and society. For example, the stability of slopes, excavations, tunnels, and boreholes are all intimately linked to these changes, as is the management of aging infrastructure, the conservation of our archaeological heritage, and the assessment of hazard risks related to phenomena like landslides and rockfalls. Crack growth also impacts the overall evolution of the critical zone, governing rates and modes of Earth surface processes ranging from CO2 cycling, to regolith production and hillslope sediment supply, to bedrock channel incision. 

Thus, there is substantial societal and scientific motivation for understanding rock fracture, the role it plays across a range of time and space scales, and for identifying key controls on its morphology, mechanisms, rates and processes. However, the factors (e.g. climate, material properties, water chemistry and stresses) that drive or limit fracture growth itself - as well its manifestation and impacts over time - remain poorly characterized across a broad array of disciplines. 

Like PRF2017, we hope PRF2022 can illustrate a pathway forward for filling the many knowledge gaps related to rock fracture overall, but particularly with respect to progressive rock failure (PRF).  There is a burgeoning appreciation that crack growth in the natural and built environment is non-linear, most commonly progressing as slow, subcritical  deformation (i.e. PRF; Eppes and Keanini, 2017) which can at times accelerate towards rapid and hazardous critical failure without obvious forewarning.  


Yet, the potentially central role that PRF may play in all fracture-related systems has been largely unrecognized or misconceived across both surface-process and engineering applications.

Geomorphologists studying natural rock fracture have largely overlooked the knowledge and concepts to be derived from rock physics and engineering research on PRF; and engineers and rock physicists have remained largely unaware of the potential applications and validations that might be possible via the study of PRF in natural landscapes.


PRF2022 seeks to bring together these communities for lively discussions and data analysis centered around testing and considering the assertion that virtually all natural rock fracture is dominated by - or at least predicated to some degree on -  PRF. 

Mountain Range

Conference Goals

PRF2022 aims to transcend traditional disciplinary divides in the study of rock fracture – and its impacts - in both natural and applied research. We hope PRF2022 will enable attendees to understand and catalog the applicability of PRF to fracture-problems within their own disciplines by addressing following types of questions: 

  • If mechanical weathering, critical zone fracture, infrastructure decay and hazards are at least partially occurring via PRF, what are the implications? How can we quantify the extent to which PRF is, or is not, a dominant process in natural landscapes and built stone infrastructure? 

  • If environment controls both stress and crack-tip PRF processes, what are the ramifications for the study of how past and ongoing climate change impacts rock fracture - and any processes impacted by rock fracture processes? 

  • What is the impact of varying surface chemistry, moisture and temperature conditions on the presence, rates and morphological manifestation of PRF and thus the processes that it influences?

  • What does it mean for mechanical weathering and ‘erodibility’ if only the smallest of stresses are needed to grow fractures? What are the relative roles of constant low-level stress generators, versus infrequent large-stress generators?

  • How do relationships between crack growth rates and fracture spacing (density/intensity) under PRF differ from relationships between fracture spacing and critical failure strength? 

  • How might experimental studies of microcrack growth be relevant over geologic timescales where material properties change as rocks are exposed under different - and changing – climatic regimes? 

Specifically, by encouraging attendance by practitioners from a range of disciplines, PRF2022 will:

  • provide a platform to identify complementary data/observations/approaches (e.g. experimental vs. field, short-time vs. deep-time, modeling, etc.) 


  • identify new scientific and commercial funding opportunities through new collaborations (e.g. bringing geomorphology and stone heritage PIs into engineering or mechanics studies and vice versa);


  • reveal key datasets (e.g. long-term data that can validate experiments or vice versa) 


  • lay out a framework for the future evaluation of PRF in the context of a full range of both academic and applied questions

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