The influence of mass transfer characteristics and porous media heterogeneity on nonaqueous phase dissolution

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A two-dimensional multiphase flow and species transport model was developed and applied to the case of nonaqueous phase liquid (NAPL) emplacement and dissolution in both homogeneous and heterogeneous porous media systems. Simulations were performed to observe dissolution rate variations and the degree of NAPL-aqueous phase nonequilibrium as a function of two aqueous phase velocities and five forms of the NAPL-aqueous phase mass transfer formulation. An integrated form of the Damkohler number was introduced to analyze the degree of NAPL-aqueous phase nonequilibrium. Mass removal rates for homogeneous media were insensitive to the form of the NAPL-aqueous phase mass transfer formulation, yielding results similar to a local equilibrium approach for all but one mass transfer formulation. This latter formulation was most sensitive to NAPL saturation and yielded significant nonequilibrium behavior, which was manifested as a decrease in NAPL dissolution rates as the NAPL volume fraction decreased. Variations in mass elution rates between homogeneous and heterogeneous media were observed, with more significant variations found for variances in porous media properties than for horizontal correlation lengths. In heterogeneous media, decreases in dissolution rates were attributed to the existence of relatively immobile regions of NAPL with saturations greater than the residual saturation of the media, so-called NAPL pools. These results illustrate the importance of the statistical characteristics of heterogeneous porous media on NAPL distribution and dissolution processes.

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Water Resources Research