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Journal Articles Journal of Contaminant Hydrology Year : 2011

Horizontal pre-asymptotic solute transport in a model fracture with Significant density contrasts


We investigate the dispersion of a finite amount of solute after it has been injected into the laminar flow occurring in a horizontal smooth fracture of constant aperture. When solute buoyancy is negligible, the dispersion process eventually leads to the well-known asymptotic Taylor­Aris dispersion regime, in which the solute progresses along the fracture at the average fluid velocity, according to a one-dimensional longitudinal advection­dispersion process. This paper addresses more realistic configurations for which the solute-induced density contrasts within the fluid play an important role on solute transport, in particular at small and moderate times. Flow and transport are coupled, since the solute distribution impacts the variations in time of the advecting velocity field. Transport is simulated using (i) a mathematical description based on the Boussinesq approximation and (ii) a numerical scheme based on a finite element analysis. This enables complete characterization of the process, in particular at moderate times for which existing analytical models are not valid. At very short times as well as very long times, the overall downward advective solute mass flow is observed to scale as the square of the injected concentration. The asymptotic Taylor­Aris effective dispersion coefficient is reached eventually, but vertical density currents, which are significant at short and moderate times, are responsible for a systematic retardation of the asymptotic mean solute position with respect to the frame moving at the mean fluid velocity, as well as for a time shift in the establishment of the asymptotic dispersion regime. These delays are characterized as functions of the Péclet number and another non-dimensional number which we call advective Archimedes number, and which quantifies the ratio of buoyancy to viscous forces. Depending on the Péclet number, the asymptotic dispersion is measured to be either larger or smaller than what it would be in the absence of buoyancy effects. Breakthrough curves measured at distances larger than the typical distance needed to reach the asymptotic dispersion regime are impacted accordingly. These findings suggest that, under certain conditions, density/buoyancy effects may have to be taken into consideration when interpreting field measurement of solute transport in fractured media. They also allow an estimate of the conditions under which density effects related to fracture wall roughness are likely to be significant.


Earth Sciences

Dates and versions

insu-00609892 , version 1 (20-07-2011)



Jeremy Bouquain, Yves Méheust, Philippe Davy. Horizontal pre-asymptotic solute transport in a model fracture with Significant density contrasts. Journal of Contaminant Hydrology, 2011, 120-121, pp.184-197. ⟨10.1016/j.jconhyd.2010.08.002⟩. ⟨insu-00609892⟩
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