American Physical Society, Physical Review E, 6(83)
Capturing the dynamics of granular flows at intermediate length scales can often be difficult. We propose studying the dynamics of contact networks as a new tool to study fracture at intermediate scales. Using experimental three-dimensional flow fields with particle-scale resolution, we calculate the time evolving broken-links network and find that a giant component of this network is formed as shear is applied to this system. We implement a model of link breakages where the probability of a link breaking is proportional to the average rate of longitudinal strain (elongation) in the direction of the edge and find that the model demonstrates qualitative agreement with the data when studying the onset of the giant component. We note, however, that the broken-links network formed in the model is less clustered than our experimental observations, indicating that the model reflects less localized breakage events and does not fully capture the dynamics of the granular flow.