Particle transport through porous media


  • Laura M. McDowell-Boyer,

  • James R. Hunt,

  • Nicholas Sitar


Transport of suspended participate matter is widely recognized to occur in subsurface environments. Field data indicate that viruses, bacteria, and clay minerals can migrate considerable distances and that small particles and macromolecules are implicated in the transport of organic contaminants and radio-nuclides. Furthermore, media permeability can be significantly altered by changes in aqueous chemistry through particle release and capture. Quantitative models for predicting particle transport are available within the water filtration literature that account for the mechanisms of particle-media collisions and the conditions for attachment. Predictions from the filtration models are used to analyze particle migration through porous media at typical groundwater flow velocities. As particles accumulate within media pores, available models become less predictive because of the coupling between particle retention and permeability reduction. An examination of filtration data reveals that retention of a relatively small solid volume within media pores can reduce media permeability by orders of magnitude. The fact that contaminants adsorbed to particles are mobile has important implications in understanding and predicting contaminant transport. The design of laboratory experiments and the collection of field samples often neglect contaminants transported by suspended colloids and particles.