Water Resources Research
  • Open Access

Coupled hydromechanical and electromagnetic disturbances in unsaturated porous materials


Corresponding author: A. Revil, Colorado School of Mines, Department of Geophysics, Green Center, 1500 Illinois St., 80401-1887 Golden, CO, USA. (arevil@mines.edu)


[1] A theory of cross-coupled flow equations in unsaturated soils is necessary to predict (1) electroosmotic flow with application to electroremediation and agriculture, (2) the electroseismic and the seismoelectric effects to develop new geophysical methods to characterize the vadose zone, and (3) the streaming current, which can be used to investigate remotely ground water flow in unsaturated conditions in the capillary water regime. To develop such a theory, the cross-coupled generalized Darcy and Ohm constitutive equations of transport are extended to unsaturated conditions. This model accounts for inertial effects and for the polarization of porous materials. Rather than using the zeta potential, like in conventional theories for the saturated case, the key parameter used here is the quasi-static volumetric charge density of the pore space, which can be directly computed from the quasi-static permeability. The apparent permeability entering Darcy's law is also frequency dependent with a critical relaxation time that is, in turn, dependent on saturation. A decrease of saturation increases the associated relaxation frequency. The final form of the equations couples the Maxwell equations and a simplified form of two-fluid phases Biot theory accounting for water saturation. A generalized expression of the Richard equation is derived, accounting for the effect of the vibration of the skeleton during the passage of seismic waves and the electrical field. A new expression is obtained for the effective stress tensor. The model is tested against experimental data regarding the saturation and frequency dependence of the streaming potential coupling coefficient. The model is also adapted for two-phase flow conditions and a numerical application is shown for water flooding of a nonaqueous phase liquid (NAPL, oil) contaminated aquifer. Seismoelectric conversions are mostly taking place at the NAPL (oil)/water encroachment front and can be therefore used to remotely track the position of this front. This is not the case for other geophysical methods.