Representativeness of 2D models to simulate 3D unstable variable density flow in porous media

Bastian Knorr, Yueqing Xie, Christine Stumpp, Piotr Maloszewski, Craig Simmons

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    10 Citations (Scopus)


    Variable density flow in porous media has been studied primarily using numerical models because it is a semi-chaotic and transient process. Most of these studies have been 2D, owing to the computational restrictions on 3D simulations, and the ability to observe variable density flow in 2D experimentation. However, it is recognised that variable density flow is a three-dimensional process. A 3D system may cause weaker variable density flow than a 2D system due to stronger dispersion, but may also result in bigger fingers and hence stronger variable density flow because of more space for fingers to coalesce. This study aimed to determine the representativeness of 2D modelling to simulate 3D variable density flow. 3D homogeneous sand column experiments were conducted at three different water flow velocities with three different bromide tracer solutions mixed with methanol resulting in different density ratios. Both 2D axisymmetric and 3D numerical simulations were performed to reproduce experimental data. Experimental results showed that the magnitude of variable density flow increases with decreasing flow rates and decreasing density ratios. The shapes of the observed breakthrough curves differed significantly from those produced by 2D axisymmetric and 3D simulations. Compared to 2D simulations, the onset of instabilities was delayed but the growth was more pronounced in 3D simulations. Despite this difference, both 2D axisymmetric and 3D models successfully simulated mass recovery with high efficiency (between 77% and 99%). This study indicates that 2D simulations are sufficient to understand integrated features of variable density flow in homogeneous sand column experiments.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)541-551
    Number of pages11
    JournalJournal of Hydrology
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2016


    • Column experiments
    • Numerical modelling
    • Porous media
    • Variable density flow


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