Low-concentration tracer tests to measure air-water interfacial area in porous media

Mark L. Brusseau, Ying Lyu, Ni Yan, Bo Guo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


The aqueous-based interfacial tracer method employing miscible-displacement tests is one method available for measuring air-water interfacial areas. One potential limitation to the method is the impact of tracer-induced drainage on the system. The objective of this study was to investigate the efficacy of a low-concentration tracer test method for measuring air-water interfacial area. Tracer concentrations and analytical methods were selected that allowed the use of tracer input concentrations that were below the threshold of tracer-induced drainage. Multiple tracer tests were conducted at different water saturations. Interfacial areas increased from 34.8 to 101 cm−1 with the decrease in saturation from 0.86 to 0.62. The method produced relatively robust measurements of air-water interfacial area, with coefficients of variation ranging from 6 to 26%. A variably saturated flow and transport model that accounts for the effects of tracer on interfacial tension, and the retention of tracer at the air-water and solid-water interfaces, was used to test for potential tracer-induced drainage. The simulations showed that the use of low tracer-input concentrations eliminated this phenomenon. This is consistent with the measured data for effluent-sample masses, which exhibited minimal change during the tests, and with the observation that the interfacial areas obtained with the low-concentration-tracer method were consistent with values measured with two methods that are not influenced by tracer-induced drainage. These results demonstrate that the low-concentration miscible-displacement tracer test method is an effective approach for measuring air-water interfacial areas in porous media.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number126305
StatePublished - Jul 2020


  • Fluid-fluid interfaces
  • Interfacial adsorption
  • Interfacial partitioning

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Chemistry(all)
  • Pollution
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


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