Articles | Volume 18, issue 6
Research article
24 Jun 2014
Research article |  | 24 Jun 2014

On the reliability of analytical models to predict solute transport in a fracture network

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

Abstract. In hydrogeology, the application of reliable tracer transport model approaches is a key issue to derive the hydrodynamic properties of aquifers.

Laboratory- and field-scale tracer dispersion breakthrough curves (BTC) in fractured media are notorious for exhibiting early time arrivals and late time tailing that are not captured by the classical advection–dispersion equation (ADE). These "non-Fickian" features are proven to be better explained by a mobile–immobile (MIM) approach. In this conceptualization the fractured rock system is schematized as a continuous medium in which the liquid phase is separated into flowing and stagnant regions.

The present study compares the performances and reliabilities of the classical MIM and the explicit network model (ENM), taking expressly into account the network geometry for describing tracer transport behavior in a fractured sample at bench scale. Though ENM shows better fitting results than MIM, the latter remains still valid as it proves to describe the observed curves quite well.

The results show that the presence of nonlinear flow plays an important role in the behavior of solute transport. First, the distribution of solute according to different pathways is not constant, but it is related to the flow rate. Second, nonlinear flow influences advection in that it leads to a delay in solute transport respect to the linear flow assumption. However, nonlinear flow is not shown to be related with dispersion. The experimental results show that in the study case the geometrical dispersion dominates the Taylor dispersion. However, the interpretation with the ENM shows a weak transitional regime from geometrical dispersion to Taylor dispersion for high flow rates. Incorporating the description of the flow paths in the analytical modeling has proven to better fit the curves and to give a more robust interpretation of the solute transport.