Electrical imaging and fluid modeling of convective fingering in a shallow water-table aquifer

Remke L. Van Dam, Brian P. Eustice, David W. Hyndman, Warren W. Wood, Craig T. Simmons

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Citations (Scopus)
4 Downloads (Pure)

Abstract

Unstable density-driven flow can lead to enhanced solute transport in groundwater. Only recently has the complex fingering pattern associated with free convection been documented in field settings. Electrical resistivity (ER) tomography has been used to capture a snapshot of convective instabilities at a single point in time, but a thorough transient analysis is still lacking in the literature. We present the results of a 2 year experimental study at a shallow aquifer in the United Arab Emirates that was designed to specifically explore the transient nature of free convection. ER tomography data documented the presence of convective fingers following a significant rainfall event. We demonstrate that the complex fingering pattern had completely disappeared a year after the rainfall event. The observation is supported by an analysis of the aquifer halite budget and hydrodynamic modeling of the transient character of the fingering instabilities. Modeling results show that the transient dynamics of the gravitational instabilities (their initial development, infiltration into the underlying lower-density groundwater, and subsequent decay) are in agreement with the timing observed in the time-lapse ER measurements. All experimental observations and modeling results are consistent with the hypothesis that a dense brine that infiltrated into the aquifer from a surficial source was the cause of free convection at this site, and that the finite nature of the dense brine source and dispersive mixing led to the decay of instabilities with time. This study highlights the importance of the transience of free convection phenomena and suggests that these processes are more rapid than was previously understood. Key Points First quantitative analysis of transient fingering using field data and modeling Geophysics and modeling agree on timing and concentration of convective fingers Fingering was caused by infiltration of a precipitation-induced brine

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)954-968
Number of pages15
JournalWater Resources Research
Volume50
Issue number2
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2014

Keywords

  • electrical resistivity
  • free convection
  • groundwater
  • numerical modeling
  • sabkha

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