Multiscale modelling of dual-porosity porous media: a computational pore-scale study for flow and solute transport

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Many environmental and agricultural applications involve the transport of water and dissolved constituents through aggregated soil profiles, or porous media that are structured, fractured or macroporous in other ways. During the past several decades, various process-based macroscopic models have been used to simulate contaminant transport in such media. Many of these models consider advective-dispersive transport through relatively large inter-aggregate pore domains, while exchange with the smaller intra-aggregate pores is assumed to be controlled by diffusion. Exchange of solute between the two domains is often represented using a first-order mass transfer coefficient, which is commonly obtained by fitting to observed data. This study aims to understand and quantify the solute exchange term by applying a dual-porosity pore-scale network model to relatively large domains, and analysing the pore-scale results in terms of the classical dual-porosity (mobile-immobile) transport formulation.

We examined the effects of key parameters (notably aggregate porosity and aggregate permeability) on the main dual-porosity model parameters, i.e., the mobile water fraction (ϕm) and the mass transfer coefficient (α). Results were obtained for a wide range of aggregate porosities (between 0.082 and 0.700). The effect of aggregate permeability was explored by varying pore throat sizes within the aggregates. Solute breakthrough curves (BTCs) obtained with the pore-scale network model at several locations along the domain were analysed using analytical solutions of the dual-porosity model to obtain estimates of ϕm and α. An increase in aggregate porosity was found to decrease ϕm and increase α, leading to considerable tailing in the BTCs. Changes in the aggregate pore throat size affected the relative flow velocity between the intra- and inter-aggregate domains. Higher flow velocities within the aggregates caused a change in the transport regime from diffusion dominated to more advection dominated. This change increased the exchange rate of solutes between the mobile and immobile domains, with a related increase in the value of the mass transfer coefficient and less tailing in the BTCs.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)82-95
JournalAdvances in Water Resources
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2017


  • pore scale
  • aggregated soil
  • mobile-immobile transport model
  • dual-porosity


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