Solute transport in heterogeneous porous formations

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Solute transport in porous formations is governed by the large-scale heterogeneity of hydraulic conductivity. The two typical lengthscales are the local one (of the order of metres) and the regional one (of the order of kilometres). The formation is modelled as a random fixed structure, to reflect the uncertainty of the space distribution of conductivity, which has a lognormal probability distribution function. A first-order perturbation approximation, valid for small log-conductivity variance, is used in order to derive closed-form expressions of the Eulerian velocity covariances for uniform average flow. The concentration expectation value is determined by using a similar approximation, and it satisfies a diffusion equation with time-dependent apparent dispersion coefficients. The longitudinal coefficients tend to constant values in both two- and three-dimensional flows only after the solute body has travelled a few tens of conductivity integral scales. This may be an exceedingly large distance in many applications for which the transient stage prevails. Comparison of theoretical results with recent field experimental data is quite satisfactory. The variance of the space-averaged concentration over a volume V may be quite large unless the lengthscale of the initial solute body or of V is large compared with the conductivity integral scale. This condition is bound to be obeyed for transport at the local scale, in which case the concentration may be assumed to satisfy the ergodic hypothesis. This is not generally the case at the regional scale, and the solute concentration is subjected to large uncertainty. The usefulness of the prediction of the concentration expectation value is then quite limited and the dispersion coefficients become meaningless. In the second part of the study, the influence of knowledge of the conductivity and head at a set of points upon transport is examined. The statistical moments of the velocity and concentration fields are computed for a subensemble of formations and for conditional probability distribution functions of conductivity and head, with measured values kept fixed at the set of measurement points. For conditional statistics the velocity is not stationary, and its mean and variance vary throughout the space, even if its unconditional mean and variance are constant. The main aim of the analysis is to examine the reduction of concentration coefficient of variation, i.e. of its uncertainty, by conditioning. It is shown that measurements of transmissivity on a grid of points can be effective in reducing concentration variance, provided that the distance between the points is smaller than two conductivity integral scales. Head conditioning has a lesser effect upon variance reduction.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)151-177
Number of pages27
JournalJournal of Fluid Mechanics
Issue number2
StatePublished - Aug 1984


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