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Multimodel analysis of anisotropic diffusive tracer-gas transport in a deep arid unsaturated zone

August 3, 2015

Gas transport in the unsaturated zone affects contaminant flux and remediation, interpretation of groundwater travel times from atmospheric tracers, and mass budgets of environmentally important gases. Although unsaturated zone transport of gases is commonly treated as dominated by diffusion, the characteristics of transport in deep layered sediments remain uncertain. In this study, we use a multimodel approach to analyze results of a gas-tracer (SF6) test to clarify characteristics of gas transport in deep unsaturated alluvium. Thirty-five separate models with distinct diffusivity structures were calibrated to the tracer-test data and were compared on the basis of Akaike Information Criteria estimates of posterior model probability. Models included analytical and numerical solutions. Analytical models provided estimates of bulk-scale apparent diffusivities at the scale of tens of meters. Numerical models provided information on local-scale diffusivities and feasible lithological features producing the observed tracer breakthrough curves. The combined approaches indicate significant anisotropy of bulk-scale diffusivity, likely associated with high-diffusivity layers. Both approaches indicated that diffusivities in some intervals were greater than expected from standard models relating porosity to diffusivity. High apparent diffusivities and anisotropic diffusivity structures were consistent with previous observations at the study site of rapid lateral transport and limited vertical spreading of gas-phase contaminants. Additional processes such as advective oscillations may be involved. These results indicate that gases in deep, layered unsaturated zone sediments can spread laterally more quickly, and produce higher peak concentrations, than predicted by homogeneous, isotropic diffusion models.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2015
Title Multimodel analysis of anisotropic diffusive tracer-gas transport in a deep arid unsaturated zone
DOI 10.1002/2014WR016055
Authors Christopher T. Green, Michelle Ann Walvoord, Brian J. Andraski, Robert G. Striegl, David A. Stonestrom
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Water Resources Research
Series Number
Index ID 70155977
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization National Research Program - Western Branch