Measuring the effect of structural connectivity on the water dynamics in heterogeneous porous media using speedy neutron tomography

J.D. Schaap, P. Lehmann, A. Kästner, R. Vontobel, R. Hassanein, G. Frei, G.H. de Rooij, E. Lehmann, H. Flühler

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27 Citations (Scopus)


The temporal and spatial distribution of water within a porous medium is affected by the medium¿s structure, i.e., the spatial arrangement of its constituents. To analyze structural effects on the fluid dynamics, we measured the 3D water content distribution in a heterogeneous sand column during two drainage-wetting cycles using neutron transmission tomography. The sample with a volume of 105 cm3 contained 101 cubes of fine and 49 cubes of coarse sand with particles ranging from 0.01 to 0.05 and 0.03 to 0.09 cm, respectively. The pressure at the lower boundary was determined by the water reservoir positioned between 7 and 39 cm below the top of the column. The duration of one complete 3D scanning with a spatial resolution of 127 ¿m was 56 s. The signal to noise ratio of the measurements was low due to the short exposure time in the neutron beam, but it was possible to quantify the water content in the individual cubes and hence the effect of structure on macroscopic water distribution. Continuous structures of coarse sand drained faster than coarse sand without connection to the upper boundary. During the initial wetting phase, cubes of coarse sand material completely embedded in the fine material remained water unsaturated due to air entrapment. The effect of the coarse sand connectivity was analyzed in two-dimensional numerical simulations based on Richards equation. In contrast to the measurements, no effect of structure connectivity was found. The coarse sand cubes embedded within the fine matrix drain as quickly as the coarse sand cubes arranged in a continuous channel due to the model assumption of a continuous air phase.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1233-1241
JournalAdvances in Water Resources
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 2008


  • sand tank experiment
  • hydraulic conductivity
  • flow
  • soil
  • radiography
  • drainage
  • scale

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