Origins and nature of non-Fickian transport through fractures

Tuesday, 16 December 2014
Lichun Wang and M. Bayani Cardenas, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX, United States
Non-Fickian transport occurs across all scales within fractured and porous geological media. Fundamental understanding and appropriate characterization of non-Fickian transport through fractures is critical for understanding and prediction of the fate of solutes and other scalars. We use both analytical and numerical modeling, including direct numerical simulation and particle tracking random walk, to investigate the origin of non-Fickian transport through both homogeneous and heterogeneous fractures.

For the simple homogenous fracture case, i.e., parallel plates, we theoretically derived a formula for dynamic longitudinal dispersion (D) within Poiseuille flow. Using the closed-form expression for the theoretical D, we quantified the time (T) and length (L) scales separating preasymptotic and asymptotic dispersive transport, with T and L proportional to aperture (b) of parallel plates to second and fourth orders, respectively.

As for heterogeneous fractures, the fracture roughness and correlation length are closely associated with the T and L, and thus indicate the origin for non-Fickian transport. Modeling solute transport through 2D rough-walled fractures with continuous time random walk with truncated power shows that the degree of deviation from Fickian transport is proportional to fracture roughness. The estimated L for 2D rough-walled fractures is significantly longer than that derived from the formula within Poiseuille flow with equivalent b. Moreover, we artificially generated normally distributed 3D fractures with fixed correlation length but different fracture dimensions. Solute transport through 3D fractures was modeled with a particle tracking random walk algorithm. We found that transport transitions from non-Fickian to Fickian with increasing fracture dimensions, where the estimated L for the studied 3D fractures is related to the correlation length.