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Title: Scale-Dependent Fracture-Matrix Interactions And Their Impact on Radionuclide Transport - Final Report

Matrix diffusion and adsorption within a rock matrix are widely regarded as important mechanisms for retarding the transport of radionuclides and other solutes in fractured rock (e.g., Neretnieks, 1980; Tang et al., 1981; Maloszewski and Zuber, 1985; Novakowski and Lapcevic, 1994; Jardine et al., 1999; Zhou and Xie, 2003; Reimus et al., 2003a,b). When remediation options are being evaluated for old sources of contamination, where a large fraction of contaminants reside within the rock matrix, slow diffusion out of the matrix greatly increases the difficulty and timeframe of remediation. Estimating the rates of solute exchange between fractures and the adjacent rock matrix is a critical factor in quantifying immobilization and/or remobilization of DOE-relevant contaminants within the subsurface. In principle, the most rigorous approach to modeling solute transport with fracture-matrix interaction would be based on local-scale coupled advection-diffusion/dispersion equations for the rock matrix and in discrete fractures that comprise the fracture network (Discrete Fracture Network and Matrix approach, hereinafter referred to as DFNM approach), fully resolving aperture variability in fractures and matrix property heterogeneity. However, such approaches are computationally demanding, and thus, many predictive models rely upon simplified models. These models typically idealize fracture rock masses as a single fracture ormore » system of parallel fractures interacting with slabs of porous matrix or as a mobile-immobile or multi-rate mass transfer system. These idealizations provide tractable approaches for interpreting tracer tests and predicting contaminant mobility, but rely upon a fitted effective matrix diffusivity or mass-transfer coefficients. However, because these fitted parameters are based upon simplified conceptual models, their effectiveness at predicting long-term transport processes remains uncertain. Evidence of scale dependence of effective matrix diffusion coefficients obtained from tracer tests highlights this point and suggests that the underlying mechanisms and relationship between rock and fracture properties are not fully understood in large complex fracture networks. In this project, we developed a high-resolution DFN model of solute transport in fracture networks to explore and quantify the mechanisms that control transport in complex fracture networks and how these may give rise to observed scale-dependent matrix diffusion coefficients. Results demonstrate that small scale heterogeneity in the flow field caused by local aperture variability within individual fractures can lead to long-tailed breakthrough curves indicative of matrix diffusion, even in the absence of interactions with the fracture matrix. Furthermore, the temporal and spatial scale dependence of these processes highlights the inability of short-term tracer tests to estimate transport parameters that will control long-term fate and transport of contaminants in fractured aquifers.« less
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Report Number(s):
DOE Contract Number:
Resource Type:
Technical Report
Research Org:
University of California, Irvine
Sponsoring Org:
USDOE; USDOE Office of Science (SC), Biological and Environmental Research (BER) (SC-23)
Country of Publication:
United States
58 GEOSCIENCES solute transport; fracture network; non-Fickian