Fluid Flow and Solute Migration Within the Capillary Fringe


Corresponding author, brian.berkowitz@weizmann.ac.il


Laboratory experiments involving both homogeneous and heterogeneous porous media are used to demonstrate that fluid flow and solute transport will occur regularly in the capillary fringe (CF), including both vertical (upward as well as downward) and horizontal flow velocities. Horizontal flow above the water table appears to be limited primarily to the region of high water saturation (i.e., the CF), an observation supported by numerical modeling and consistent with the literature. Beyond observations presented in prior literature, it was observed that exchange of water within the CF with water below the water table is active, with flux both from the CF downward across the water table and from the region below the water table, upward into the CF. This flux is enhanced by the presence of physical heterogeneity. These findings strongly contrast the common conceptualization of predominantly downward vertical fluid flow through the unsaturated zone, with transition to fully three-dimensional flow only below the water table. Based on these observations, it is suggested that the CF may affect, far more significantly than is usually assumed, the natural geochemical and microbial conditions present in the region of transition from unsaturated to saturated ground water flow.