Solute transport in heterogeneous soil with time-dependent boundary conditions

Cremer, Clemens J.; Neuweiler, Insa; Bechtold, Michel GND; Vanderborght, Jan

We investigate the effect of dynamic boundary conditions on solute transport in unsaturated, heterogeneous, bimodal porous media. Solute transport is studied with two-dimensional numerical flow and transport models for scenarios where either (i) solely infiltration or (ii) more realistic dynamic (infiltration–evaporation) boundary conditions are imposed at the soil surface. Travel times of solute are affected by duration and intensity of infiltration and evaporation events even when cycle-averaged inflow rates of the scenarios are identical. Three main transport mechanisms could be identified based on a criterion for the infiltration rate that is related to the hydraulic conductivity curves of the media. If, based on this criterion, infiltration rates are low, the transport paths for upward and downward transport do not differ significantly, and the breakthrough curves of solute are similar to the one obtained under stationary infiltration. If infiltration rates are moderate, travel paths deviate between upward and downward flow, leading to a trapping of solute and strong tailing of the breakthrough curves. If infiltration and evaporation rates are very high, lateral advective–diffusive transport can lead to very efficient and fast downward transport. Thus, solute breakthrough depends strongly on lateral flow paths enforced by the boundary conditions at the soil surface. If heterogeneity of the materials is not strong and the structure is tortuous, dynamic boundary conditions mainly lead to increased macrodispersion. We test simplified upscaled transport models based on stationary flow rates to estimate breakthrough curves and demonstrate how the transport mechanisms are captured in the model parameters.

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Cremer, Clemens J. / Neuweiler, Insa / Bechtold, Michel / et al: Solute transport in heterogeneous soil with time-dependent boundary conditions. 2016.

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