Transverse mixing in three-dimensional nonstationary anisotropic heterogeneous porous media

Olaf Cirpka, Gabriele Chiogna, Massimo Rolle, Alberto Bellin

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Groundwater plumes originating from continuously emitting sources are typically controlled by transverse mixing between the plume and reactants in the ambient solution. In two-dimensional domains, heterogeneity causes only weak enhancement of transverse mixing in steady-state flows. In three-dimensional domains, more complex flow patterns are possible because streamlines can twist. In particular, spatially varying orientation of anisotropy can cause steady-state groundwater whirls. We analyze steady-state solute transport in three-dimensional locally isotropic heterogeneous porous media with blockwise anisotropic correlation structure, in which the principal directions of anisotropy differ from block to block. For this purpose, we propose a transport scheme that relies on advective transport along streamlines and transverse-dispersive mass exchange between them based on Voronoi tessellation. We compare flow and transport results obtained for a nonstationary anisotropic log-hydraulic conductivity field to an equivalent stationary field with identical mean, variance, and two-point correlation function disregarding the nonstationarity. The nonstationary anisotropic field is affected by mean secondary motion and causes neighboring streamlines to strongly diverge, which can be quantified by the two-particle semivariogram of lateral advective displacements. An equivalent kinematic descriptor of the flow field is the advective folding of plumes, which is more relevant as precursor of mixing than stretching. The separation of neighboring streamlines enhances transverse mixing when considering local dispersion. We quantify mixing by the flux-related dilution index, which is substantially larger for the nonstationary anisotropic conductivity field than for the stationary one. We conclude that nonstationary anisotropy in the correlation structure has a significant impact on transverse plume deformation and mixing. In natural sediments, contaminant plumes most likely mix more effectively in the transverse directions than predicted by models that neglect the nonstationarity of anisotropy.
Original languageEnglish
JournalWater Resources Research
Issue number1
Pages (from-to)241-260
Publication statusPublished - 2015


  • Nonstationarity
  • Anisotropic correlation structure
  • Secondary motion
  • Mixing
  • Dilution


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