skip to main content
OSTI.GOV title logo U.S. Department of Energy
Office of Scientific and Technical Information

Title: Effects of Porous Medium Heterogeneity on Vadose Zone Desiccation: Intermediate-scale Laboratory Experiments and Simulations

Abstract

Soil desiccation (drying), involving water evaporation induced by dry gas injection, is a potentially robust vadose zone remediation process to limit contaminant transport through the vadose zone. A series of four intermediate-scale flow cell experiments was conducted in homogeneous and simple layered heterogeneous porous medium systems to investigate the effects of heterogeneity on desiccation of unsaturated porous media. The permeability ratios of porous medium layers ranged from about five to almost two orders of magnitude. The insulated flow cell was equipped with twenty humidity and temperature sensors and a dual-energy gamma system was used to determine water saturations at various times. The multiphase code STOMP was used to simulate the desiccation process. Results show that injected dry gas flowed predominantly in the higher permeability layer and delayed water removal from the lower permeability material. For the configurations tested, water vapor diffusion from the lower to the higher permeability zone was considerable over the duration of the experiments, resulting in much larger relative humidity values of the outgoing air than based on permeability ratios alone. Acceptable numerical matches with the experimental data were obtained when an extension of the saturation-capillary pressure relation below the residual water saturation was used. The agreementsmore » between numerical and experimental results suggest that the correct physics are implemented in the simulator and that the thermal and hydraulic properties of the porous media, flow cell wall and insulation materials were properly represented.« less

Authors:
; ; ; ;
Publication Date:
Research Org.:
Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), Richland, WA (US), Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory (EMSL)
Sponsoring Org.:
USDOE
OSTI Identifier:
1057823
Report Number(s):
PNNL-SA-84135
24992; 830403000
DOE Contract Number:
AC05-76RL01830
Resource Type:
Journal Article
Resource Relation:
Journal Name: Vadose Zone Journal, 11(4)
Country of Publication:
United States
Language:
English
Subject:
desiccation; soil drying; contaminant transport; Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory

Citation Formats

Oostrom, Martinus, Freedman, Vicky L., Wietsma, Thomas W., Dane, Jacob H., and Truex, Michael J. Effects of Porous Medium Heterogeneity on Vadose Zone Desiccation: Intermediate-scale Laboratory Experiments and Simulations. United States: N. p., 2012. Web. doi:10.2136/vzj2011.0168.
Oostrom, Martinus, Freedman, Vicky L., Wietsma, Thomas W., Dane, Jacob H., & Truex, Michael J. Effects of Porous Medium Heterogeneity on Vadose Zone Desiccation: Intermediate-scale Laboratory Experiments and Simulations. United States. doi:10.2136/vzj2011.0168.
Oostrom, Martinus, Freedman, Vicky L., Wietsma, Thomas W., Dane, Jacob H., and Truex, Michael J. Thu . "Effects of Porous Medium Heterogeneity on Vadose Zone Desiccation: Intermediate-scale Laboratory Experiments and Simulations". United States. doi:10.2136/vzj2011.0168.
@article{osti_1057823,
title = {Effects of Porous Medium Heterogeneity on Vadose Zone Desiccation: Intermediate-scale Laboratory Experiments and Simulations},
author = {Oostrom, Martinus and Freedman, Vicky L. and Wietsma, Thomas W. and Dane, Jacob H. and Truex, Michael J.},
abstractNote = {Soil desiccation (drying), involving water evaporation induced by dry gas injection, is a potentially robust vadose zone remediation process to limit contaminant transport through the vadose zone. A series of four intermediate-scale flow cell experiments was conducted in homogeneous and simple layered heterogeneous porous medium systems to investigate the effects of heterogeneity on desiccation of unsaturated porous media. The permeability ratios of porous medium layers ranged from about five to almost two orders of magnitude. The insulated flow cell was equipped with twenty humidity and temperature sensors and a dual-energy gamma system was used to determine water saturations at various times. The multiphase code STOMP was used to simulate the desiccation process. Results show that injected dry gas flowed predominantly in the higher permeability layer and delayed water removal from the lower permeability material. For the configurations tested, water vapor diffusion from the lower to the higher permeability zone was considerable over the duration of the experiments, resulting in much larger relative humidity values of the outgoing air than based on permeability ratios alone. Acceptable numerical matches with the experimental data were obtained when an extension of the saturation-capillary pressure relation below the residual water saturation was used. The agreements between numerical and experimental results suggest that the correct physics are implemented in the simulator and that the thermal and hydraulic properties of the porous media, flow cell wall and insulation materials were properly represented.},
doi = {10.2136/vzj2011.0168},
journal = {Vadose Zone Journal, 11(4)},
number = ,
volume = ,
place = {United States},
year = {Thu Nov 01 00:00:00 EDT 2012},
month = {Thu Nov 01 00:00:00 EDT 2012}
}
  • Soil desiccation, in conjunction with surface infiltration control, is considered at the Hanford Site as a potential technology to limit the flux of technetium and other contaminants in the vadose zone to the groundwater. An intermediate-scale experiment was conducted to test the response of a series of instruments to desiccation and subsequent rewetting of porous media. The instruments include thermistors, thermocouple psychrometers, dual-probe heat pulse sensors, heat dissipation units, and humidity probes. The experiment was simulated with the multifluid flow simulator STOMP, using independently obtained hydraulic and thermal porous medium properties. All instrument types used for this experiment were ablemore » to indicate when the desiccation front passed a certain location. In most cases the changes were sharp, indicating rapid changes in moisture content, water potential, or humidity. However, a response to the changing conditions was recorded only when the drying front was very close to a sensor. Of the tested instruments, only the heat dissipation unit and humidity probes were able to detect rewetting. The numerical simulation results reasonably match the experimental data, indicating that the simulator captures the pertinent gas flow and transport processes related to desiccation and rewetting and may be useful in the design and analysis of field tests.« less
  • Soil desiccation (drying) is recognized as a potentially robust vadose zone remediation process involving water evaporation induced by air injection and extraction. Desiccation has the potential to immobilize contaminants and could potentially improve access for other gas-phase treatments by reducing water saturation and therefore increasing sediment gas-phase permeability. Before this technology could be deployed in the field, concerns related to energy limitations, osmotic effects, and potential contaminant remobilization after rewetting need to be addressed. A series of detailed wedge-shaped, intermediate-scale laboratory experiments in unsaturated homogeneous and simple heterogeneous systems was conducted to improve the understanding of the impact of energymore » balance issues on soil desiccation. The experiments were simulated with the multifluid flow simulator STOMP, using independently obtained hydraulic and thermal porous medium properties. In all the experiments, the injection of dry air proved to be an effective means for removing essentially all moisture from the test media. Evaporative cooling was observed which generally decreased with increased distance from the gas inlet chamber. Observations of temperature in fine-grained sands in the heterogeneous systems show two local temperature minima associated with the cooling. The first one occurs because of evaporation in the adjacent medium-grained sand whereas the second minimum is attributed to evaporative cooling in the fine-grained sand itself. Results of the laboratory tests were simulated accurately when thermal properties of the flow cell walls and insulation material were taken into account, indicating that the proper physics were incorporated into the simulator.« less
  • Desiccation of the vadose zone has the potential to reduce the flux of contaminants to underlying groundwater by removing moisture and decreasing the aqueous-phase permeability of the desiccated zone. However, data to evaluate implementation of desiccation are needed to enable consideration of desiccation as a potential remedy. Implementation of desiccation was field tested by injecting dry nitrogen gas to a target treatment zone and monitoring the spatial and temporal progress of the drying process. Aqueous waste discharges to disposal cribs approximately 50 years ago distributed water and contaminants, including primarily technetium-99 and nitrate, within the 100-m deep vadose zone atmore » the test site. A field test location was selected adjacent to one of the former disposal cribs. The test was conducted in a contaminated portion of the vadose zone dominated by fine sands with lenses of silt material. Desiccation reduced volumetric moisture content to as low as 0.01. The lateral and vertical distribution of drying from the injection well was influenced by the subsurface heterogeneity. However, over time, desiccation occurred in the initially wetter, lower permeability lenses.« less
  • We are investigating the role of colloids in the movement of radionuclides through water unsaturated porous media. This research is guided by a key objective of the Environmental Management Science Program (EMSP), which is to improve conceptual and predictive models for contaminant movement in complex vadose zone environments. In the report entitled National Roadmap for Vadose Zone Science and Technology [DOE, 2001], increases in the understanding of colloid-contaminant interactions, colloid mobilization, and colloid deposition within unsaturated soils are cited as requisite needs for predicting contaminant fate and distribution in the vadose zone. We seek to address these needs by pursuingmore » three overarching goals: (1) identify the mechanisms that govern colloid mobilization, transport, and deposition within unsaturated porous media; (2) quantify the role of colloids in scavenging and facilitating the transport of radionuclides; and (3) develop and test a mathematical model suitable for simulating the movement of colloid-associated radionuclides through variably saturated porous media.« less