Modeling intragranular diffusion in low-connectivity granular media

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Abstract

[1] Characterizing the diffusive exchange of solutes between bulk water in an aquifer and water in the intragranular pores of the solid phase is still challenging despite decades of study. Many disparities between observation and theory could be attributed to low connectivity of the intragranular pores. The presence of low connectivity indicates that a useful conceptual framework is percolation theory. The present study was initiated to develop a percolation-based finite difference (FD) model, and to test it rigorously against both random walk (RW) simulations of diffusion starting from nonequilibrium, and data on Borden sand published by Ball and Roberts (1991a,b) and subsequently reanalyzed by Haggerty and Gorelick (1995) using a multirate mass transfer (MRMT) approach. The percolation-theoretical model is simple and readily incorporated into existing FD models. The FD model closely matches the RW results using only a single fitting parameter, across a wide range of pore connectivities. Simulation of the Borden sand experiment without pore connectivity effects reproduced the MRMT analysis, but including low pore connectivity effects improved the fit. Overall, the theory and simulation results show that low intragranular pore connectivity can produce diffusive behavior that appears as if the solute had undergone slow sorption, despite the absence of any sorption process, thereby explaining some hitherto confusing aspects of intragranular diffusion.

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