Laboratory investigations of the effects of geologic heterogeneity on groundwater salinization and flush-out times from a tsunami-like event

M. Vithanage, P. Engesgaard, K. H. Jensen, T. H. Illangasekare, J. Obeysekera

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

This intermediate scale laboratory experimental study was designed to improve the conceptual understanding of aquifer flushing time associated with diffuse saltwater contamination of coastal aquifers due to a tsunami-like event. The motivation comes from field observations made after the tsunami in December, 2004 in South Asia. The focus is on the role and effects of heterogeneity on flushing effectiveness. A scheme that combines experimentation in a 4.8 m long laboratory tank and numerical modeling was used. To demonstrate the effects of geologic heterogeneity, plume migration and flushing times were analyzed in both homogeneous and layered media and under different boundary conditions (ambient flow, saltwater infiltration rate, freshwater recharge). Saltwater and freshwater infiltrations imitate the results of the groundwater salinization from the tsunami and freshening from the monsoon rainfall. The saltwater plume behavior was monitored both through visual observations (digital photography) of the dyed salt water and using measurements taken from several electrical conductivity sensors installed through the tank walls. The variable-density, three dimensional code HST3D was used to simulate the tank experiments and understand the fate and movement of the saltwater plume under field conditions. The results from the tank experiments and modeling demonstrated that macro-scale heterogeneity significantly influenced the migration patterns and flushing times of diffuse saltwater contamination. Ambient flow had a direct influence on total flush-out time, and heterogeneity impacted flush-out times for the top part of the tank and total flush-out times. The presence of a continuous low-permeability layer caused a 40% increase in complete flush-out time due to the slower flow of salt water in the low-permeability layer. When a relatively small opening was introduced in the low-permeability layer, salt water migrated quickly into a higher-permeable layer below causing a reduction in flush-out time. Freshwater recharge caused an early dilution of salt water in the top part of the tank in the case of a layered media, but also pushed the saltwater plume into the low-permeability layer which led to increased total flush-out times.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)10-24
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Contaminant Hydrology
Volume136-137
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2012
Externally publishedYes

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