The Role of Probabilistic Approaches to Transport Theory in Heterogeneous Media
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A physical picture of contaminant transport in highly heterogeneous porous media is presented. In any specific formation the associated governing transport equation is valid at any time and space scale. Furthermore, the advective and dispersive contributions are inextricably combined. The ensemble average of the basic transport equation is equivalent to a continuous time random walk (CTRW). The connection between the CTRW transport equation, in a limiting case and the familiar advection-dispersion equation (ADE) is derived. The CTRW theory is applied to the results of laboratory experiments, field observations, and simulations of random fracture networks. All of these results manifest dominant non-Gaussian features in the transport, over different scales, which are accounted for quantitatively by the theory. The key parameter β controlling the entire shape of the contaminant plume evolution and breakthrough curves is advanced as a more useful characterization of the transport than the dispersion tensor, which is based on moments of the plume. The role of probabilistic approaches, such as CTRW, is appraised in the context of the interplay of spatial scales and levels of uncertainty. We then discuss a hybrid approach, which uses knowledge of non-stationary aspects of a field site on a larger spatial scale (trends) with a probabilistic treatment of unresolved structure on a smaller scale (residues).
Key wordscontaminant transport heterogeneous media continuous time random walk CTRW non-Gaussian transport.
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