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Heat as a tracer for understanding transport processes in fractured media: Theory and field assessment from multiscale thermal push-pull tracer tests

Abstract : The characterization and modeling of heat transfer in fractured media is particularly challenging as the existence of fractures at multiple scales induces highly localized flow patterns. From a theoretical and numerical analysis of heat transfer in simple conceptual models of fractured media, we show that flow channeling has a significant effect on the scaling of heat recovery in both space and time. The late time tailing of heat recovery under channeled flow is shown to diverge from the TðtÞ / t 21:5 behavior expected for the classical parallel plate model and follow the scaling TðtÞ / 1=tðlog tÞ 2 for a simple channel modeled as a tube. This scaling, which differs significantly from known scalings in mobile-immobile systems, is of purely geometrical origin: late time heat transfer from the matrix to a channel corresponds dimensionally to a radial diffusion process, while heat transfer from the matrix to a plate may be considered as a one-dimensional process. This phenomenon is also manifested on the spatial scaling of heat recovery as flow channeling affects the decay of the thermal breakthrough peak amplitude and the increase of the peak time with scale. These findings are supported by the results of a field experimental campaign performed on the fractured rock site of Ploemeur. The scaling of heat recovery in time and space, measured from thermal breakthrough curves measured through a series of push-pull tests at different scales, shows a clear signature of flow channeling. The whole data set can thus be successfully represented by a multichannel model parametrized by the mean channel density and aperture. These findings, which bring new insights on the effect of flow channeling on heat transfer in fractured rocks, show how heat recovery in geothermal tests may be controlled by fracture geometry. In addition, this highlights the interest of thermal push-pull tests as a complement to solute tracers tests to infer fracture aperture and geometry.
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Maria Klepikova, Tanguy Le Borgne, Olivier Bour, Marco Dentz, Rebecca Hochreutener, et al.. Heat as a tracer for understanding transport processes in fractured media: Theory and field assessment from multiscale thermal push-pull tracer tests. Water Resources Research, American Geophysical Union, 2016, 52 (7), pp.5442-5457. ⟨10.1002/2016WR018789⟩. ⟨insu-01346041⟩

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