On the effects of preferential or barrier flow features on solute plumes in permeable porous media

Megan Sebben, Adrian Werner

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    8 Citations (Scopus)


    Despite that discrete flow features (DFFs, e.g. fractures and faults) are common features in the subsurface, few studies have explored the influence of DFFs on solute plumes in otherwise permeable rocks (e.g. sandstone, limestone), compared to low-permeability rock settings (e.g. granite and basalt). DFFs can provide preferential flow pathways (i.e. ‘preferential flow features’ PFFs), or can act to impede flow (i.e. ‘barrier flow features’ BFFs). This research uses a simple analytical expression and numerical modelling to explore how a single DFF influences the steady-state distributions of solute plumes in permeable aquifers. The analysis quantifies the displacement and widening (or narrowing) of a steady-state solute plume as it crosses a DFF in idealised, 1 × 1 m moderately permeable rock aquifers. Previous research is extended by accounting for DFFs as 2D flow features, and including BFF situations. A range of matrix-DFF permeability ratios (0.01 to 100) and DFF apertures (0.25 mm to 2 cm), typical of sedimentary aquifers containing medium-to-large fractures, are considered. The results indicate that for the conceptual models considered here, PFFs typically have a more significant influence on plume distributions than BFFs, and the impact of DFFs on solute plumes generally increases with increasing aperture. For example, displacement of peak solute concentration caused by DFFs exceeds 20 cm in some PFF cases, compared to a maximum of 0.64 cm in BFF cases. PFFs widen plumes up to 9.7 times, compared to a maximum plume widening of 2.0 times in BFF cases. Plumes crossing a PFF are less symmetrical, and peak solute concentrations beneath PFFs are up to two orders of magnitude lower than plumes in BFF cases. This study extends current knowledge of the attenuating influence of DFFs in otherwise permeable rocks on solute plume characteristics, through evaluation of 2D flow effects in DFFs for a variety of DFF apertures, and by considering BFF situations.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)32-46
    Number of pages15
    JournalAdvances in Water Resources
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2016


    • Flow barriers
    • Fractures
    • Numerical model
    • Permeable matrix
    • Preferential flow
    • Solute transport


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