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Keywords:

  • solute mixing;
  • steady state transport;
  • stochastic analysis;
  • streamline coordinates;
  • transverse dispersion

[1] Transverse mixing of solutes in steady state transport is of utmost importance for assessing mixing-controlled reactions of compounds that are continuously introduced into the subsurface. Classical spatial moments analysis fails to describe mixing because the tortuous streamlines in heterogeneous formations cause plume meandering, squeezing, and stretching, which affect transverse spatial moments even if there is no mass transfer perpendicular to the direction of flow. For transverse solute mixing, however, the decisive process is the exchange of solute mass between adjacent stream tubes. We therefore reformulate the advection-dispersion equation in streamline coordinates (i.e., in terms of the potential and the stream function values) and analyze how flux-related second central moments of plumes increase with dropping hydraulic potential. We compare the ensemble behavior of these second central moments in random two-dimensional heterogeneous flow fields with the moments in an equivalent homogeneous system, thus defining an equivalent effective transverse dispersion coefficient. Unlike transverse macrodispersion coefficients derived by traditional moment analysis, our mixing-relevant, flux-related coefficient does not increase with travel distance. We present closed-form solutions for the mean enhancement of transverse mixing by heterogeneity in two-dimensional isotropic media for linear laws of local-scale transverse dispersion. The mixing enhancement factor increases with the log conductivity variance but remains fairly low. We also evaluate the variance of our cumulative measure of transverse mixing, showing that heterogeneity causes substantial uncertainty of mixing. The analytical expressions are compared to numerical Monte Carlo simulations for various values of log conductivity variance, indicating good agreement with the analytical results at low variability. In the numerical simulations, we also consider nonlinear models of local-scale transverse dispersion.