DNAPL migration in single fractures: issues of scale, aperture variability and matrix diffusion

Katherine Hill

    Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

    99 Downloads (Pure)


    [Truncated abstract] To date, many subsurface contaminant modelling studies have focused on increasing model complexity and measurement requirements to improve model accuracy and widen model application. However, due to the highly complex and heterogeneous nature of flow in the subsurface, the greater benefit in model development may lie in decreasing complexity by identifying key processes and parameters, simplifying the relationships that exist between them, and incorporating these relationships into simple models that recognise or quantify the inherent complexity and uncertainty. To address this need, this study aims to identify and isolate the key processes and parameters that control dense nonaqueous phase liquid (DNAPL) and aqueous phase migration through single, onedimensional fractures. This is a theoretical representation which allows the study of processes through conceptual and mathematical models. Fracture systems typically consist of multiple two-dimensional fractures in a three-dimensional network; however, these systems are computationally and conceptually demanding to investigate and were outside of the scope of this study. This work initially focuses on DNAPL migration in single, one-dimensional fractures. The similitude techniques of dimensional and inspectional analysis are performed to simplify the system and to develop breakthrough time scale factors. This approach relies heavily on the limitations of the equation used for the analysis and on the difficulty in representing variable aperture scenarios. The complexity of the conceptual model is then increased by embedding the fracture in a two-dimensional, porous matrix. ... These tools can be readily applied by the field investigator or computer modeller to make order-of-magnitude estimates of breakthrough times, reduce or target measurement requirements, and lessen the need to employ numerical multiphase flow models. To determine the implications of the results found in the one-dimensional studies to applications at the field scale, the complexity of the conceptual model was increased to a single, two-dimensional, planar fracture embedded in a three-dimensional porous matrix. The focus of this study was not DNAPL breakthrough times but the relative importance and interaction of different mass transport processes and parameters on plume migration and evolution. Observations clearly show that estimates of the size, location and concentration of the plume is highly dependent on the geologic media, the temporal and spatial location and resolution of measurements, and on the history, mass and location of the DNAPL source. In addition, the processes controlling mass transport (especially matrix diffusion and back diffusion) act in combination at the field scale in ways not always expected from an analysis of processes acting individually at smaller spatial and temporal scales. Serious concerns over the application of the common '1% Rule of Thumb' to predict DNAPL presence and the use of remediation efforts that rely largely on natural attenuation are raised. These findings have major implications for the field worker and computer modeller, and any characterisation, monitoring or remediation program development needs to be sensitive to these findings.
    Original languageEnglish
    QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
    Publication statusUnpublished - 2007


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