Numerical Study of Solute Transport in Heterogeneous Beach Aquifers Subjected to Tides

Xiaolong Geng, Michel C. Boufadel, Harihar Rajaram, Fangda Cui, Kenneth Lee, Chunjiang An

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A numerical study, based on a variably saturated groundwater flow model within a Monto Carlo framework, was conducted to investigate flow and solute transport in a heterogeneous beach aquifer subjected to tides. The numerical simulations were conducted based on our previous tracer experiments performed in a laboratory beach. Heterogeneity is assumed to be multifractal generated using the Universal Multifractal model. Our results show that heterogeneity greatly alters temporal and spatial evolution of the tracer plume migrating in the beach. The spreading coefficient of the plume shows very dynamic response to tides; it increases as the tidally driven recirculation cell overlaps with the plume and decreases as the recirculation cell moves far from the plume with tides. Descriptive statistics suggests that heterogeneity enhances spreading of the plume in the beach in an ensemble sense along with significant spatial and temporal variation. Due to heterogeneity, high spots of the pore water velocity are formed within the recirculation cell, creating transient preferential flow paths in the beach in response to tides. Contours of the Okubo-Weiss (OW) parameter show that coupling with tides, heterogeneity creates vorticity-dominated flow regions and also expands strain-dominated flow regions more downward, indicating complex local-scale mixing in the beach, compared to corresponding homogeneous case. Geologic heterogeneity also alters the spatial extent of the recirculating cell and induces highly variable transit time along the recirculating flow paths. The results provide insights into effects of geologic heterogeneity on seawater-groundwater mixing and associated solute transport processes in tidally influenced coastal aquifers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2019WR026430
JournalWater Resources Research
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 1 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Water Science and Technology


  • heterogeneous beach aquifers
  • multifractal permeability fields
  • solute transport
  • tides
  • tracer study
  • variably saturated groundwater flow


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