A high resolution, cross-borehole, 3D electrical resistivity tomography (ERT) study of solute transport was conducted in a large experimental tank. ERT voxels comprising the time sequence of electrical images were converted into a 3D array of ERT estimated fluid conductivity breakthrough curves and compared with direct measurements of fluid conductivity breakthrough made in wells. The 3D ERT images of solute transport behaviour were also compared with predictions based on a 3D finite-element, coupled flow and transport model, accounting for gravity induced flow caused by concentration differences. The tank (dimensions 185 × 245 × 186 cm) was filled with medium sand, with a gravel channel and a fine sand layer installed. This heterogeneous system was designed to complicate solute transport behaviour relative to a homogeneous sand tank, and to thus provide a challenging but insightful analysis of the ability of 3D ERT to resolve transport phenomena. Four ERT arrays and 20 piezometers were installed during filling. A NaCl tracer (conductivity 1.34 S/m) was injected and intensively monitored with 3D ERT and direct sampling of fluid chemistry in piezometers. We converted the bulk conductivity estimate for 250 voxels in the ERT imaged volume into ERT estimated voxel fluid conductivity by assuming that matrix conduction in the tank is negligible. In general, the ERT voxel response is in reasonable agreement with the shape of fluid conductivity breakthrough observed in six wells in which direct measurements of fluid conductivity were made. However, discrepancies occur, particularly at early times, which we attribute to differences between the scale of the image voxels and the fluid conductivity measurement, measurement errors mapped into the electrical inversion and artificial image roughness resulting from the inversion. ERT images revealed the 3D tracer distribution at 15 times after tracer injection. The general pattern and timing of solute breakthrough observed with ERT agreed with that predicted from the flow/transport modelling. However, the ERT images indicate a vertical component of tracer transport and preferential flow paths in the medium sand. We attribute this to transient vertical gradients established during tracer injection, and heterogeneity caused by sorting of the sand resulting from the filling procedure. In this study, ERT provided a unique dataset of 250 voxel breakthrough curves in 1.04 m3. The use of 3D ERT to generate an array of densely sampled estimated fluid conductivity breakthrough curves is a potentially powerful tool for quantifying solute transport processes.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- ERT imaging
- Physical model
- Solute transport