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Phys Rev E. 2016 Jul;94(1-1):013113. doi: 10.1103/PhysRevE.94.013113. Epub 2016 Jul 22.

Experimental investigation of transverse mixing in porous media under helical flow conditions.

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Center for Applied Geoscience, University of Tübingen, Hölderlinstraße 12, D-72074 Tübingen, Germany.
State Key Laboratory of Hydrology-Water Resources and Hydraulic Engineering, Hohai University, Nanjing, China.
Faculty of Civil, Geo and Environmental Engineering, Technical University of Munich, Arcistraße 21, D-80333 Munich, Germany.
Department of Environmental Engineering, Technical University of Denmark, Miljøvej Building 115, DK-2800 Lyngby, Denmark.


Plume dilution and transverse mixing can be considerably enhanced by helical flow occurring in three-dimensional heterogeneous anisotropic porous media. In this study, we perform tracer experiments in a fully three-dimensional flow-through chamber to investigate the effects of helical flow on plume spiraling and deformation, as well as on its dilution. Porous media were packed in angled stripes of materials with different grain sizes to create blocks with macroscopically anisotropic hydraulic conductivity, which caused helical flows. Steady-state transport experiments were carried out by continuously injecting dye tracers at different inlet ports. High-resolution measurements of concentration and flow rates were performed at 49 outlet ports. These measurements allowed quantifying the spreading and dilution of the solute plumes at the outlet cross section. Direct evidence of plume spiraling and visual proof of helical flow was obtained by freezing and slicing the porous media at different cross sections and observing the dye-tracer distribution. We simulated flow and transport to interpret our experimental observations and investigate the effects of helical flow on mixing-controlled reactive transport. The simulation results were evaluated using metrics of reactive mixing such as the critical dilution index and the length of continuously injected steady-state plumes. The results show considerable reaction enhancement, quantified by the remarkable decrease of reactive plume lengths (up to four times) in helical flows compared to analogous scenarios in uniform flows.


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