How Much Heterogeneity? Flow versus Area from a Big Data Perspective

Authors: P. Kulkarni, W. Godwin, J. Long, C. Newell
Published: February 2020 in Remediation Journal.


Over the past 10 years, there has been an increased recognition that matrix diffusion processes are a significant factor controlling the success of groundwater remediation. New field techniques and modeling tools have, consequently, been developed to understand how contaminants diffuse into and then out of low‐permeability (“low‐k”) zones and assess the resulting impact on groundwater quality. Matrix diffusion, in turn, is driven by one key factor: geologic heterogeneity. The importance of heterogeneity is being emphasized in the groundwater field by general rules of thumb such as “90% of the mass flux occurs in 10%‐20% of the cross‐sectional area” and conceptual models that show most of the groundwater flow occurs through the aquifer's “mobile porosity” which just a small fraction of commonly used effective porosity values (between 0.02 and 0.10 for mobile porosity vs. 0.25 for effective porosity). For this study, 141 boring logs from 43 groundwater remediation sites were evaluated to develop an empirically based estimate of the groundwater flow versus aquifer cross‐sectional area to confirm or reject the general flow versus area rules of thumb. This study indicated that at these 43 sites, an average of 30% of the cross‐sectional area carried 90% of the groundwater flow. Our flow‐only analysis does provide moderate (but not confirmatory) support for the “mobile porosity” concept with an estimated representative mobile porosity value of about 0.11 at the 43 sites.