The effect of local-scale physical heterogeneity and nonlinear, rate-limited sorption/desorption on contaminant transport in porous media

G. R. Johnson, K. Gupta, D. K. Putz, Q. Hu, M. L. Brusseau

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

44 Scopus citations


Nonideal transport of contaminants in porous media has often been observed in laboratory characterization studies. It has long been recognized that multiple processes associated with both physical and chemical factors can contribute to this nonideal transport behavior. To fully understand system behavior, it is important to determine the relative contributions of these multiple factors when conducting contaminant transport and fate studies. In this study, the relative contribution of physical-heterogeneity-related processes versus those of nonlinear, rate-limited sorption/desorption to the observed nonideal transport of trichloroethene in an undisturbed aquifer core was determined through a series of miscible-displacement experiments. The results of experiments conducted using the undisturbed core, collected from a Superfund site in Tucson, AZ, were compared to those obtained from experiments conducted using the same aquifer material packed homogeneously. The results indicate that both physical and chemical factors, specifically preferential flow and associated rate-limited diffusive mass-transfer and rate-limited sorption/desorption, respectively, contributed to the nonideal behavior observed for trichloroethene transport in the undisturbed core. A successful prediction of trichloroethene transport in the undisturbed core was made employing a mathematical model incorporating multiple sources of nonideal transport, using independently determined model parameters to account for the multiple factors contributing to the nonideal transport behavior. The simulation results indicate that local-scale physical heterogeneity controlled the nonideal transport behavior of trichloroethene in the undisturbed core, and that nonlinear, rate-limited sorption/desorption were of secondary importance.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)35-58
Number of pages24
JournalJournal of Contaminant Hydrology
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - Jun 2003


  • Contaminant transport
  • Porous media
  • Sorption/desorption

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Water Science and Technology


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