Articles | Volume 20, issue 4
Research article
05 Apr 2016
Research article |  | 05 Apr 2016

On the validity of effective formulations for transport through heterogeneous porous media

Jean-Raynald de Dreuzy and Jesus Carrera

Abstract. Geological heterogeneity enhances spreading of solutes and causes transport to be anomalous (i.e., non-Fickian), with much less mixing than suggested by dispersion. This implies that modeling transport requires adopting either stochastic approaches that model heterogeneity explicitly or effective transport formulations that acknowledge the effects of heterogeneity. A number of such formulations have been developed and tested as upscaled representations of enhanced spreading. However, their ability to represent mixing has not been formally tested, which is required for proper reproduction of chemical reactions and which motivates our work. We propose that, for an effective transport formulation to be considered a valid representation of transport through heterogeneous porous media (HPM), it should honor mean advection, mixing and spreading. It should also be flexible enough to be applicable to real problems. We test the capacity of the multi-rate mass transfer (MRMT) model to reproduce mixing observed in HPM, as represented by the classical multi-Gaussian log-permeability field with a Gaussian correlation pattern. Non-dispersive mixing comes from heterogeneity structures in the concentration fields that are not captured by macrodispersion. These fine structures limit mixing initially, but eventually enhance it. Numerical results show that, relative to HPM, MRMT models display a much stronger memory of initial conditions on mixing than on dispersion because of the sensitivity of the mixing state to the actual values of concentration. Because MRMT does not restitute the local concentration structures, it induces smaller non-dispersive mixing than HPM. However long-lived trapping in the immobile zones may sustain the deviation from dispersive mixing over much longer times. While spreading can be well captured by MRMT models, in general non-dispersive mixing cannot.

Short summary
Geological heterogeneity enhances spreading of solutes and causes transport to be anomalous with much less mixing and reactivity than suggested by dispersion. We propose formal criteria that should be met by effective transport formalisms to represent advection, spreading and mixing. While relevant for dispersion in heterogeneous porous media, mobile–immobile exchange models induce lower but more sustained resistance to mixing.