Infiltration behaviour of elemental mercury DNAPL in fully and partially water saturated porous media

Andrea D'Aniello*, Niels Hartog, Thomas Sweijen, Domenico Pianese

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Mercury is a contaminant of global concern due to its harmful effects on human health and for the detrimental consequences of its release in the environment. Sources of liquid elemental mercury are usually anthropogenic, such as chlor-alkali plants. To date insight into the infiltration behaviour of liquid elemental mercury in the subsurface is lacking, although this is critical for assessing both characterization and remediation approaches for mercury DNAPL contaminated sites. Therefore, in this study the infiltration behaviour of elemental mercury in fully and partially water saturated systems was investigated using column experiments. The properties affecting the constitutive relations governing the infiltration behaviour of liquid Hg0, and PCE for comparison, were determined using Pc(S) experiments with different granular porous media (glass beads and sands) for different two- and three-phase configurations. Results showed that, in water saturated porous media, elemental mercury, as PCE, acted as a non-wetting fluid. The required entry head for elemental mercury was higher (from about 5 to 7 times). However, due to the almost tenfold higher density of mercury, the required NAPL entry heads of 6.19 cm and 12.51 cm for mercury to infiltrate were 37.5% to 20.7% lower than for PCE for the same porous media. Although Leverett scaling was able to reproduce the natural tendency of Hg0 to be more prone than PCE to infiltrate in water saturated porous media, it considerably underestimated Hg0 infiltration capacity in comparison with the experimental results. In the partially water saturated system, in contrast with PCE, elemental mercury also acted as a nonwetting fluid, therefore having to overcome an entry head to infiltrate. The required Hg0 entry heads (10.45 and 15.74 cm) were considerably higher (68.9% and 25.8%) than for the water saturated porous systems. Furthermore, in the partially water saturated systems, experiments showed that elemental mercury displaced both air and water, depending on the initial water distribution within the pores. This indicates that the conventional wettability hierarchy, in which the NAPL has an intermediate wetting state between the air and the water phases, is not valid for liquid elemental mercury. Therefore, for future modelling of elemental mercury DNAPL infiltration behaviour in variably water saturated porous media, a different formulation of the governing constitutive relations will be required.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)14-23
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Contaminant Hydrology
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2018


  • Elemental mercury
  • Leverett scaling
  • PCE
  • Scaling parameters
  • Variably water saturated


Dive into the research topics of 'Infiltration behaviour of elemental mercury DNAPL in fully and partially water saturated porous media'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this