Journal article

Scaling of capillary, gravity and viscous forces affecting flow morphology in unsaturated porous media

Interplay between capillary, gravity and viscous forces in unsaturated porous media gives rise to a range of complex flow phenomena affecting morphology, stability and dynamics of wetting and drainage fronts. Similar average phase contents may result in significantly different fluid distribution and patterns affecting macroscopic transport properties of the unsaturated medium. The formulation of general force balance within simplified pore spaces yields scaling relationships for motion of liquid elements in which gravitational force in excess of capillary pinning force scales linearly with viscous force. Displacement fluid front morphology is described using dimensionless force ratios expressed as Bond and Capillary numbers. The concise representations of a wide range of flow regimes with scaling relations, and predictive capabilities of front morphology based on dimensionless numbers lend support to certain generalizations. Considering available experimental data, we are able to define conditions for onset of unstable and intermittent flows leading to enhanced liquid and gas entrapment. These results provide a basis for delineation of a tentative value of Bo similar to 0.05 as an upper limit of applicability of the Richards equation (at pore to sample scales) and related continuum-based flow models. (C) 2007 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.


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