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Journal of Contaminant Hydrology


The mono-continuum advection-dispersion equation (mADE) is commonly regarded as unsuitable for application to media that exhibit rapid breakthrough and extended tailing associated with diffusion between high and low permeability regions. This paper demonstrates that the mADE can be successfully used to model such conditions if certain issues are addressed. First, since hydrodynamic dispersion, unlike molecular diffusion, cannot occur upstream of the contaminant source, models must be formulated to prevent “back-dispersion.” Second, large variations in aquifer permeability will result in differences between volume-weighted average concentration (resident concentration) and flow-weighted average concentration (flux concentration). Water samples taken from wells may be regarded as flux concentrations, while soil samples may be analyzed to determine resident concentrations. While the mADE is usually derived in terms of resident concentration, it is known that a mADE of the same mathematical form may be written in terms of flux concentration. However, when solving the latter, the mathematical transformation of a flux boundary condition applied to the resident mADE becomes a concentration type boundary condition for the flux mADE. Initial conditions must also be consistent with the form of the mADE that is to be solved. Thus, careful attention must be given to the type of concentration data that is available, whether resident or flux concentrations are to be simulated, and to boundary and initial conditions. We present 3-D analytical solutions for resident and flux concentrations, discuss methods of solving numerical models to obtain resident and flux concentrations, and compare results for hypothetical problems. We also present an upscaling method for computing “effective” dispersivities and other mADE model parameters in terms of physically meaningful parameters in a diffusion-limited mobile–immobile model. Application of the latter to previously published studies of systems that exhibit early breakthrough and extended tailing shows that the upscaled mADE model is able to describe the observed behavior with reasonable accuracy given only known physical parameters for the systems without any model calibration.


This research was conducted with funding from the U.S. Department of Defense Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program (SERDP) Environmental Restoration Program managed by Dr. Andrea Leeson under project ER-2310 entitled “A practical approach for remediation performance assessment and optimization at DNAPL sites for early identification and correction of problems.”