Simple Model Representations of Transport in a Complex Fracture and Their Effects on Long-Term Predictions

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A complex fracture model for fluid flow and tracer transport was previously developed that incorporates many of the important physical effects of a realistic fracture, including advection through a heterogeneous fracture plane, partitioning of flow into multiple subfractures in the third dimension, and diffusion and sorption into fracture-filling gouge, small altered rock matrix blocks within the fracture zone, and the unaltered semi-infinite rock matrix on both sides of the fracture zone (Tsang and Doughty, 2003). It is common, however, to represent the complex fracture by much simpler models consisting of a single fracture, with a uniform or heterogeneous transmissivity distribution ... continued below

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Doughty, Christine; Tsang, Chin-Fu; Doughty, Christine & Uchida, Masahiro November 7, 2007.

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A complex fracture model for fluid flow and tracer transport was previously developed that incorporates many of the important physical effects of a realistic fracture, including advection through a heterogeneous fracture plane, partitioning of flow into multiple subfractures in the third dimension, and diffusion and sorption into fracture-filling gouge, small altered rock matrix blocks within the fracture zone, and the unaltered semi-infinite rock matrix on both sides of the fracture zone (Tsang and Doughty, 2003). It is common, however, to represent the complex fracture by much simpler models consisting of a single fracture, with a uniform or heterogeneous transmissivity distribution over its plane and bounded on both sides by a homogeneous semi-infinite matrix. Simple-model properties are often inferred from the analysis of short-term (one to a few days) site characterization (SC) tracer-test data. The question addressed in this paper is: How reliable is the temporal upscaling of these simplified models? Are they adequate are for long-term calculations that cover thousands of years? In this study, a particle-tracking approach is used to calculate tracer-test breakthrough curves (BTCs) in a complex fracture model, incorporating all the features described above, for both a short-term SC tracer test and a 10,000-year calculation. The results are considered the 'real-world'. Next, two simple fracture models, one uniform and the other heterogeneous, are introduced. Properties for these simple models are taken either from laboratory data or found by calibration to the short-term SC tracer-test BTCs obtained with the complex fracture model. Then the simple models are used to simulate tracer transport at the long-term time scale. Results show that for the short-term SC tracer test, the BTCs calculated using simple models with laboratory-measured parameters differ significantly from the BTCs obtained with the complex fracture model. By adjusting model properties, the simple models can be calibrated to reproduce the peak arrival time and height of the complex-fracture-model BTCs, but the overall match remains quite poor. Using simple models with short-term SC-calibrated parameters for long-term calculations causes order-of-magnitude errors in tracer BTCs: peak arrival time is 10-100 times too late, and peak height is 50-300 times too small. On the other hand, using simple models with laboratory-measured properties of unfractured rock samples for 10,000-year calculations results in peak arrivals and heights up to a factor of 50 too early and large, respectively. The actual magnitudes of the errors made by using the simple models depend on the parameter values assumed for the complex fracture model, but in general, simple models are not expected to provide reliable long-term predictions. The paper concludes with some suggestions on how to improve long-term prediction calculations.

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  • Journal Name: Water Resources Research

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  • Report No.: LBNL-309E
  • Grant Number: DE-AC02-05CH11231
  • Office of Scientific & Technical Information Report Number: 929437
  • Archival Resource Key: ark:/67531/metadc894007

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  • November 7, 2007

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  • Sept. 27, 2016, 1:39 a.m.

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  • Sept. 29, 2017, 5:35 p.m.

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Doughty, Christine; Tsang, Chin-Fu; Doughty, Christine & Uchida, Masahiro. Simple Model Representations of Transport in a Complex Fracture and Their Effects on Long-Term Predictions, article, November 7, 2007; Berkeley, California. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc894007/: accessed August 18, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.