Propagation of Gravity Currents of non-Newtonian Power-Law Fluids in Porous Media

Thursday, 18 December 2014
Vittorio Di Federico1, Sandro Longo2, Valentina Ciriello1 and Luca Chiapponi2, (1)University of Bologna, Dipartimento di Ingegneria Civile, Chimica, Ambientale e dei Materiali (DICAM), Bologna, Italy, (2)University of Parma, Dipartimento di Ingegneria Civile, Ambiente Territorio e Architettura (DICATeA), Parma, Italy
A comprehensive analytical and experimental framework is presented to describe gravity-driven motions of rheologically complex fluids through porous media. These phenomena are relevant in geophysical, environmental, industrial and biological applications.

The fluid is characterized by an Ostwald-DeWaele constitutive equation with behaviour index n. The flow is driven by the release of fluid at the origin of an infinite porous domain. In order to represent several possible spreading scenarios, we consider: i) different domain geometries: plane, radial, and channelized, with the channel shape parameterized by k; ii) instantaneous or continuous injection, depending on the time exponent of the volume of fluid in the current, α; iii) horizontal or inclined impermeable boundaries. Systematic heterogeneity along the streamwise and/or transverse direction is added to the conceptualization upon considering a power-law permeability variation governed by two additional parameters ω and β. Scalings for current length and thickness are derived in self similar form coupling the modified Darcy’s law accounting for the fluid rheology with the mass balance equation. The length, thickness, and aspect ratio of the current are studied as functions of model parameters; several different critical values of α emerge and govern the type of dependency, as well as the tendency of the current to accelerate or decelerate and become thicker or thinner at a given point. The asymptotic validity of the solutions is limited to certain ranges of model parameters.

Experimental validation is performed under constant volume, constant and variable flux regimes in tanks/channels filled with transparent glass beads of uniform or variable diameter, using shear-thinning suspensions and Newtonian mixtures. The experimental results for the length and profile of the current agree well with the self-similar solutions at intermediate and late times.