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Changes in Entrapped Gas Content and Hydraulic Conductivity with Pressure


  • Reproduced with the permission of the Minister of Environment.

National Water Research Institute, Environment Canada, Burlington, ON, Canada;


Water table fluctuations continuously introduce entrapped air bubbles into the otherwise saturated capillary fringe and groundwater zone, which reduces the effective (quasi-saturated) hydraulic conductivity, Kquasi, thus impacting groundwater flow, aquifer recharge and solute and contaminant transport. These entrapped gases will be susceptible to compression or expansion with changes in water pressure, as would be expected with water table (and barometric pressure) fluctuations. Here we undertake laboratory experiments using sand-packed columns to quantify the effect of water table changes of up to 250 cm on the entrapped gas content and the quasi-saturated hydraulic conductivity, and discuss our ability to account for these mechanisms in ground water models. Initial entrapped air contents ranged between 0.080 and 0.158, with a corresponding Kquasi ranging between 2 and 6 times lower compared to the Ks value. The application of 250 cm of water pressure caused an 18% to 26% reduction in the entrapped air content, resulting in an increase in Kquasi by 1.16 to 1.57 times compared to its initial (0 cm water pressure) value. The change in entrapped air content measured at pressure step intervals of 50 cm, was essentially linear, and could be modeled according to the ideal gas law. Meanwhile, the changes in Kquasi with compression–expansion of the bubbles because of pressure changes could be adequately captured with several current hydraulic conductivity models.