Examining the Influence of Heterogeneous Porosity Fields on Conservative Solute Transport

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It is widely recognized that groundwater flow and solute transport in natural media are largely controlled by heterogeneities. In the last three decades, many studies have examined the effects of heterogeneous hydraulic conductivity fields on flow and transport processes, but there has been much less attention to the influence of heterogeneous porosity fields. In this study, we use porosity and particle size measurements from boreholes at the Boise Hydrogeophysical Research Site (BHRS) to evaluate the importance of characterizing the spatial structure of porosity and grain size data for solute transport modeling. Then we develop synthetic hydraulic conductivity fields based on relatively simple measurements of porosity from borehole logs and grain size distributions from core samples to examine and compare the characteristics of tracer transport through these fields with and without inclusion of porosity heterogeneity.

In particular, we develop horizontal 2D realizations based on data from one of the less heterogeneous units at the BHRS to examine effects where spatial variations in hydraulic parameters are not large. The results indicate that the distributions of porosity and the derived hydraulic conductivity in the study unit resemble fractal normal and lognormal fields respectively. We numerically simulate solute transport in stochastic fields and find that spatial variations in porosity have significant effects on the spread of an injected tracer plume including a significant delay in simulated tracer concentration histories.