Two-scale computational modelling of unsaturated flow in soils exhibiting small scale heterogeneities
Carr, Elliot (2013) Two-scale computational modelling of unsaturated flow in soils exhibiting small scale heterogeneities. [Working Paper] (Unpublished)
Unsaturated water flow in soil is commonly modelled using Richards’ equation, which requires the hydraulic properties of the soil (e.g., porosity, hydraulic conductivity, etc.) to be characterised. Naturally occurring soils, however, are heterogeneous in nature, that is, they are composed of a number of interwoven homogeneous soils each with their own set of hydraulic properties. When the length scale of these soil heterogeneities is small, numerical solution of Richards’ equation is computationally impractical due to the immense effort and refinement required to mesh the actual heterogeneous geometry.
A classic way forward is to use a macroscopic model, where the heterogeneous medium is replaced with a fictitious homogeneous medium, which attempts to give the average flow behaviour at the macroscopic scale (i.e., at a scale much larger than the scale of the heterogeneities). Using the homogenisation theory, a macroscopic equation can be derived that takes the form of Richards’ equation with effective parameters. A disadvantage of the macroscopic approach, however, is that it fails in cases when the assumption of local equilibrium does not hold. This limitation has seen the introduction of two-scale models that include at each point in the macroscopic domain an additional flow equation at the scale of the heterogeneities (microscopic scale).
This report outlines a well-known two-scale model and contributes to the literature a number of important advances in its numerical implementation. These include the use of an unstructured control volume finite element method and image-based meshing techniques, that allow for irregular micro-scale geometries to be treated, and the use of an exponential time integration scheme that permits both scales to be resolved simultaneously in a completely coupled manner. Numerical comparisons against a classical macroscopic model confirm that only the two-scale model correctly captures the important features of the flow for a range of parameter values.
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