Electrical imaging and fluid modeling of convective fingering in a shallow water-table aquifer

Van Dam, Remke L., Eustice, Brian P., Hyndman, David W., Wood, Warren W., & Simmons, Craig T. (2014) Electrical imaging and fluid modeling of convective fingering in a shallow water-table aquifer. Water Resources Research, 50(2), pp. 954-968.

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Unstable density-driven flow can lead to enhanced solute transport in groundwater. Only recently has the complex fingering pattern associated with free convection been documented in field settings. Electrical resistivity (ER) tomography has been used to capture a snapshot of convective instabilities at a single point in time, but a thorough transient analysis is still lacking in the literature. We present the results of a 2 year experimental study at a shallow aquifer in the United Arab Emirates that was designed to specifically explore the transient nature of free convection. ER tomography data documented the presence of convective fingers following a significant rainfall event. We demonstrate that the complex fingering pattern had completely disappeared a year after the rainfall event. The observation is supported by an analysis of the aquifer halite budget and hydrodynamic modeling of the transient character of the fingering instabilities. Modeling results show that the transient dynamics of the gravitational instabilities (their initial development, infiltration into the underlying lower-density groundwater, and subsequent decay) are in agreement with the timing observed in the time-lapse ER measurements. All experimental observations and modeling results are consistent with the hypothesis that a dense brine that infiltrated into the aquifer from a surficial source was the cause of free convection at this site, and that the finite nature of the dense brine source and dispersive mixing led to the decay of instabilities with time. This study highlights the importance of the transience of free convection phenomena and suggests that these processes are more rapid than was previously understood.

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6 citations in Scopus
2 citations in Web of Science®
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ID Code: 71207
Item Type: Journal Article
Refereed: Yes
DOI: 10.1002/2013WR013673
ISSN: 0043-1397
Divisions: Past > QUT Faculties & Divisions > Faculty of Science and Technology
Current > Institutes > Institute for Future Environments
Deposited On: 08 May 2014 00:45
Last Modified: 21 Jun 2017 06:01

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