SPECT Imaging as a Tool for Testing and Challenging Assumptions About Transport in Porous Media
Thursday, 18 December 2014
Medical imaging has shown promise for unraveling the influence of physical, chemical and biological processes on contaminant transport. Micro-CT scans, for instance, are increasingly utilized to image the pore-scale structure of rocks and soils, which can subsequently be used within modeling studies. A disadvantage of micro-CT, however, is that this imaging modality does not directly detect contaminants. In contrast, Single Photon Emission Computed Tomography (SPECT) can provide the three-dimensional distribution of gamma emitting materials and is thus ideal for imaging the transport of radionuclides. SPECT is of particular interest as a tool for both directly imaging the behavior of long-lived radionuclides of interest, e.g., 99Tc and 137Cs, as well as monitoring shorter-lived isotopes as in-situ tracers of flow and biogeochemical processes. We demonstrate the potential of combining CT and SPECT imaging to improve the mechanistic understanding of flow and transport processes within a heterogeneous porous medium. In the experiment, a column was packed with 0.2mm glass beads with a cylindrical zone of 2mm glass beads embedded near the outlet; this region could be readily identified within the CT images. The column was injected with a pulse of NaCl solution spiked with 99mTcO4- and monitored using SPECT while aliquots of the effluent were used to analyze the breakthrough of both solutes. The breakthrough curves could be approximately replicated by a one-dimensional transport model, but the SPECT data revealed that the tracers migrated around the inclusion of larger beads. Although the zone of large-diameter beads was expected to act as a preferential pathway, the observed behavior could only be replicated in numerical transport simulations if this region was treated as a low-permeability zone relative to the rest of the column. This simple experiment demonstrates the potential of SPECT for investigating flow and transport phenomena within a porous medium.