Effect of Hydrodynamics on Particle Transport in Saturated Fractures: Experimental and Simulation Results

Tuesday, 16 December 2014: 4:45 PM
Sean Cianflone, Vickram Lakhian and Sarah E Dickson, McMaster University, Hamilton, ON, Canada
Approximately one third of Canadians and Americans use groundwater as their source of drinking water. Porous media aquifers typically provide significant filtration of particulate contaminants (e.g., viruses, bacteria, protozoa). Fractured media, however, does not provide the same degree of filtration, and in fact often acts as a pathway for particulates to migrate, typically at much greater velocities than in porous media. Fractured aquifers, therefore, are significantly more vulnerable to particulate contamination than unconsolidated porous media. Thus, understanding in the mechanisms of particle migration and retention in fractures is important for the protection and management of these drinking water sources.

The purpose of this work was to investigate the role of hydrodynamics on particle transport in saturated, variable aperture fractures. A 2D fracture was randomly generated with an average aperture of approximately 2mm. The fracture was inscribed into pieces of poly(methyl methacrylate), thus creating a pseudo-2D fracture (the xy fracture domain is invariant in z). Transport experiments using fluorescent microspheres (0.05 um, 0.5 um, and 0.75 um) were performed at 2.6 m/day, 26 m/day and 113 m/day and the resulting breakthrough curves were measured. These breakthrough curves included various shoulders and artifacts that were repeatable and could be used to evaluate the quality of a model.

COMSOL Multiphysics, was used to generate an average flow field through the 2D fracture by numerically solving the steady-state Navier-Stokes equation. In order to have a 3D realization of the flow field, a parabolic flow regime was assumed in the z-axis and used to scale the average flow field. Random walk particle tracking was utilized to generate breakthrough curves; however, the Brownian motion and local fluid shear mechanisms needed to be considered in addition to the standard movement of particles via the local flow field in order to appropriately model the experimental results. These results suggest that local hydrodynamics are important in defining the transport of particles through a fracture. We plan to discuss further applications, general statistics, and particle retention in fractures due to hydrodynamics and ultimately the role of fracture geometry in particle transport.