Effective parameters for two-phase flow in a porous medium with periodic heterogeneities

B. Ataie-Ashtiani, S. M. Hassanizadeh, M. Oostrom, Michael Anthony Celia, M. D. White

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Computational simulations of two-phase flow in porous media are used to investigate the feasibility of replacing a porous medium containing heterogeneities with an equivalent homogeneous medium. Simulations are performed for the case of infiltration of a dense nonaqueous phase liquid (DNAPL) in a water-saturated, heterogeneous porous medium. For two specific porous media, with periodic and rather simple heterogeneity patterns, the existence of a representative elementary volume (REV) is studied. Upscaled intrinsic permeabilities and upscaled nonlinear constitutive relationships for two-phase flow systems are numerically calculated and the effects of heterogeneities are evaluated. Upscaled capillary pressure-saturation curves for drainage are found to be distinctly different from the lower-scale curves for individual regions of heterogeneity. Irreducible water saturation for the homogenized medium is found to be much larger than the corresponding lower-scale values. Numerical simulations for both heterogeneous and homogeneous representations of the considered porous media are carried out. Although the homogenized model simulates the spreading behavior of DNAPL reasonably well, it still fails to match completely the results form the heterogeneous simulations. This seems to be due, in part, to the nonlinearities inherent to multiphase flow systems. Although we have focussed on a periodic heterogeneous medium in this study, our methodology is applicable to other forms of heterogeneous media. In particular, the procedure for identification of a REV, and associated upscaled constitutive relations, can be used for randomly heterogeneous or layered media as well.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)87-109
Number of pages23
JournalJournal of Contaminant Hydrology
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - 2001

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Water Science and Technology
  • Environmental Chemistry


  • Capillary pressure-saturation curve
  • Effective parameters
  • Heterogeneous porous media
  • Two-phase flow
  • Upscaling


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