Civil and Environmental Engineering Publications


Capillary Pressure Characteristics Necessary for Simulating DNAPL Infiltration, Redistribution, and Immobilization in Saturated Porous Media

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Water Resources Research





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This study presents a capillary-pressure saturation (PC-S) constitutive model that incorporates the capillary phenomena necessary for simulating the spatial distribution of nonwetting fluid migrating in a saturated porous medium. To develop a model validation data set, a sequence of dense, nonaqueous phase liquid (DNAPL) pools were emplaced, under alternating drainage and imbibition conditions, in a one-dimensional, 1 m tall, saturated sand pack. A light transmission/image analysis system successfully distinguished between connected-phase and residual nonwetting fluid in the apparatus, thereby permitting the accurate measurement of DNAPL pool heights. These heights are found to depend on the nonzero capillary pressure across the fluid-fluid interface at the top of the pool. The terminal pressure is demonstrated to be the minimum sustainable capillary pressure in connected-phase nonwetting fluid experiencing imbibition, below which residual is formed. Additional bench-scale experiments demonstrate that a nonwetting phase pool will penetrate an underlying capillary barrier when the entry pressure is exceeded and that the resulting infiltration will terminate when the capillary pressure at the barrier reduces to the terminal pressure. At the macroscopic scale the terminal pressure corresponds to the extinction saturation (i.e., zero nonwetting phase flow) at the inflection point on the imbibition PC-S curve. A ratio of terminal to entry pressure of approximately 0.6 is found to apply at both bench and macroscopic scales and to be independent of porous media and fluid properties. The developed PC-S constitutive model, which extends the Brooks-Corey function to incorporate the terminal pressure, successfully predicted the behavior observed in the laboratory experiments. Constitutive models that do not incorporate both an entry and a terminal pressure, such as those based upon the standard van Genuchten function, are demonstrated to be unable to predict the observed equilibrium DNAPL pool heights in homogeneous media or above capillary barriers.


Published as: Gerhard, J. I., and B. H. Kueper, Capillary pressure characteristics necessary for simulating DNAPL infiltration, redistribution, and immobilization in saturated porous media, Water Resour. Res., 39(8), 1212, doi:10.1029/2002WR001270, 2003.
Dr. J. I. Gerhard is currently a faculty member at The University of Western Ontario.

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