Articles | Volume 16, issue 8
Research article
06 Aug 2012
Research article |  | 06 Aug 2012

Bench scale laboratory tests to analyze non-linear flow in fractured media

C. Cherubini, C. I. Giasi, and N. Pastore

Abstract. The knowledge of flow phenomena in fractured rocks is very important for groundwater resources management in hydrogeological engineering.

A critical emerging issue for fractured aquifers is the validity of the Darcian-type "local cubic law", which assumes a linear relationship between flow rate and pressure gradient to accurately describe flow patterns.

Experimental data obtained under controlled conditions such as in a laboratory increase our understanding of the fundamental physics of fracture flow and allow us to investigate the presence of non-linear flow inside fractures that generates a substantial deviation from Darcy's law.

In this study the presence of non-linear flow in a fractured rock formation has been analyzed at bench scale in laboratory tests. The effects of non-linearity in flow have been investigated by analyzing hydraulic tests on an artificially created fractured rock sample of parallelepiped (0.60 × 0.40 × 0.8 m) shape.

The volumes of water passing through different paths across the fractured sample for various hydraulic head differences have been measured, and the results of the experiments have been reported as specific flow rate vs. head gradient. The experimental results closely match the Forchheimer equation and describe a strong inertial regime. The results of the test have been interpreted by means of numerical simulations. For each pair of ports, several steady-state simulations have been carried out varying the hydraulic head difference between the inlet and outlet ports. The estimated linear and non-linear Forchheimer coefficients have been correlated to each other and respectively to the tortuosity of the flow paths. A correlation among the linear and non-linear Forchheimer coefficients is evident. Moreover, a tortuosity factor that influences flow dynamics has been determined.