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PAMM · Proc. Appl. Math. Mech. 5, 3942 (2005) / DOI 10.1002/pamm.200510011

Pore structures: Measurement, cha racterization and relevance for flow and transport in soils

Peter Lehmann

Institute of Terrestrial Ecology, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Grabenstrasse 3, 8952 Schlieren, Switzerland

The geometry of the pore space determines the flow and transport properties of a soil under water saturated and unsaturated conditions. The spatial arrangement of the pores can be mapped using the appropriate tomographic technique. To understand the effect of the pore space on flow and transport, the complex pore structures must be quantified. To reveal the importance of various geometrical properties, porous media with well defined geometrical properties were numerically generated and were compared with a sand medium containing sphere-like particles with sizes ranging from 80 to 1’250 µm. The spatial distribution of water and air was calculated for the optimized media and the sand packing to quantify the relevance of the geometric properties. In a first test, the sand packing was compared with a generated medium with identical Minkowski functionals. The resulting pores of the generated media were too large and the water retention was underestimated. In a second test, a medium with an optimized chord length distribution was generated and a good agreement with respect to water distribution was found. The chord length distribution is a more relevant property, because it takes into account the correlation of the system over large spatial distances.

  • 1 Introduction

© 2005 WILEY-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co. KGaA, Weinheim

Natural soils are porous media containing complex structures of different length scales. At the smallest scale discussed in this study, the pore scale, water and air flows in the void space between solid particles. The fluid phase distribution is dominated by the capillary forces in the pores with diameters ranging from one to several thousands of microns. Due to soil formating processes, the solid particles are not randomly distributed in space but are often arranged in clusters denoted as aggregates. While the water dynamics in the large pores between the aggregates are driven by gravity forces, the water in the fine voids between the particles within the aggregate is retained by strong capillary forces. To understand and to predict flow and transport processes in soils, size and arrangement of the soil constituents must be determined. To reveal the three dimensional structure of the soil, tomographic methods can be used. From the measured attenuation of neutrons or X-rays, the material density of the sample can be reconstructed. The size of the details that can be reconstructed depends on the size of the sample and on the intensity of the beam. Within the last years, the time per scan decreased while the resolution increased. For large pores between aggregates or worm borrows, the three dimensional arrangement of these macropores in samples with diameter about 5 cm can be mapped within a few minutes with a resolution of about 100 microns. To map the geometry of pores with high capillary forces, X-rays from synchrotrons can be used to obtain a spatial resolution of less than 10 micron for samples of about 1 cm in size. Despite the progress with respect to efficiency and resolution, the tomography is time consuming and only a very limited number of samples can be analyzed. In addition, the detailed information about the pore space is not sufficient to understand the effect of structural properties on flow and transport. We need to quantify the complex pore structure and to find the geometrical properties that dominate the transport behavior of the soil. In this study, the relationship between geometrical properties of the porous medium and the fluid phase distribution will be analyzed. The fluid distribution depends on the size and the connectivity of the pores and dominates flow and transport processes, because the air phase interrupts the largest flow paths of water. To quantify the influence of a geometric property on fluid distribution, a medium will be generated that is identical to the sand packing with respect to the geometrical property. The fluid distribution for the generated medium will be calculated and compared with the results of the sand packing.

  • 2 Description of generated porous media

    • 2.1 Sand packing

The porous media that will be analyzed in this study contains particles ranging from 80 to 1’250 µm. This material was used in a research project focused on the effect of organic compounds on solute transport and fluid phase distribution ([1], [2], [3]). The porosity, i.e. the volumetric fraction of the pore space, was 0.37 m 3 m 3 . The size distribution of the particles was determined by measuring the mass of particles smaller than the size of the mesh of different sieves. According to the measured particle mass, the number of particles as a function of size was calculated. In this study, we use a model of the sand packing

Corresponding author: e-mail: peter.lehmann@env.ethz.ch, Phone: +41 44 633 6016, Fax: +41 44 633 1123

© 2005 WILEY-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co. KGaA, Weinheim

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containing 15’139 particles of spherical shape. The spheres were randomly distributed in a cubic box of size 6’250 µm. To quantify the porous medium, the system must be disretized. The resulting image consist of 300 3 voxels of size 20.8 µm. The voxel is the smallest unit of a three dimensional image, correpsonding to the pixel in two dimensions. To discretize the system, the solid mass within each cubic voxel was determined. A threshold was applied to classify the voxels as pore space or solid phase, fulfilling the constraint of the given porosity. In the remaining text this discretized image is denoted as true medium or target structure. A cross-section through the sand model is shown in Figure 1. To analyze the effect of geometric properties on phase distribution, we focus on the quantities introduced in the following subsections.

  • 2.2 Minkowski functionals

The four Minkowski functionals of a three dimensional structure are the volume V , the surface S , the mean breadth B and the connectivity EPC . The connectivity, also denoted as Euler-Poincar´e characteristic, counts the number of structures minus the number of redundant connections. In [4], the EPC was applied for the first time to characterize the pore space in soils. To determine the Minkowski functionals of the image of the pore space, the number of vertices n v , edges n e , faces n f and cubes n c of all voxels of the pore space must be calculated. Using these four numbers, the Minkowski functionals are

V

S

2B

EPC

=

=

=

=

n c 6 n c

3 n c n

c

+

+

2 n f 2 n f

n f

+

n

e

n

e

+

n v

(1)

as described in [5]. To generate a porous medium with the same Minkowski functionals, a random medium is generated and optimized. Initially, each voxel is determined as pore space if a random number between 0 and 1 is smaller than the porosity of the porous medium. Then, a voxel of the pore space and a voxel of the solid phase are chosen randomly and their position is exchanged. In a next step, the functionals and their deviation from the true value are calculated. For an increasing deviation, the positions of the two voxels are reset to the initial values. The resulting optimized pore structure had the very same numbers n c , n f , n e and n v and hence the same Minkowski functionals. A cross-section of the generated media is shown in Figure 1. Comparing the generated media with the true structure, the voids in the generated medium are larger. In additions, a few too small solid particles were generated.

Minisymposium M8 40 containing 15’139 particles of spherical shape. The spheres were randomly distributed in a

Fig. 1 Cross-section through the true (left) image and the generated image with the same Minkowski functionals (right). In the middle, the initial image before the start of the optimization is shown. Solid particles are shown in black. The voids between the particles are shown in white.

  • 2.3 Chord length distribution

A line intersecting the image of the porous media reveals a sequence of black and white segments representing the solid phase and the pore space, respectively. The length of such a segment within one phase is denoted as chord. The chord lengths in x-, y - and z -directions were analyzed for the target structure and the optimized geometries. As in case of the optimized minkowski functionals, two randomly chosen black and a white voxels were exchanged. Then, the error of the chord length was calculated according to i 2 (h t (i) h o (i)) 2 with the length of a chord i in voxels and the number of chords for the target structure and the optimized media, h t and h o , respectively. If the error cumulated over all length i increases, the two points are reset to the initial position. Alternatively, an increasing error could be accepted with a certain probability. Such an approach, denoted as simulated annealing, was used by [6] to reconstruct chalk images. In contrast to the optimization of the Minkowski functionals, the deviation of the chord length distribution of the optimized structure was non-zero. But after 6.3 10 8 pairs of analyzed black and white voxels, the resulting fraction of misclassified voxels was less than 0.0001. Some cross-sections of porous media generated according to the true chord length distributions are shown in Figure 2. For the chord length distribution

© 2005 WILEY-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co. KGaA, Weinheim

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optimized in the vertical direction, the resulting porous media differs from the target structure. The horizontal extension of the pores is far too small. For structures with chord length distributions optimized in z -, y -, and x-directions, the size of the resulting pores are comparable to the true medium. In all cases, the spherical shape of the the solid particles disappears. But this is of minor importance because we focus on the geometrical properties of the pore space.

PAMM · Proc. Appl. Math. Mech. 5 (2005) 41 optimized in the vertical direction, the resulting
PAMM · Proc. Appl. Math. Mech. 5 (2005) 41 optimized in the vertical direction, the resulting

Fig. 2 Cross-sections through porous media with optimized chord length distribution. In the left figure, the chord length distribution of the solid phase was fitted in the vertical direction. In the middle, the structure with the optimized chord length of the solid phase fitted in three directions is shown. The last figure shows the structure with the optimized three dimensional chord length distribution of the pore space.

  • 3 Modelled phase distribution

To test the relevance of the optimized geometric properties for flow and transport, the water and air distribution of the generated media is calculated. The amount of water and air depends on the size dependent capillary forces and on the connectivity of the pore space. Capillary forces and flow velocities depend on the size of the pores, so the pore size distribution is of high interest. To determine the pore size distribution, a size is attributed to each voxel of the pore space. Initially, the distance from the solid wall is determined for all voxels of the pore space. This distance co rresponds to the radius of a sphere touching the solid walls. If a pore voxel is the centre of a small sphere but lies within a larger sphere, the radius of this large sphere is attributed to the centre of the small sphere. The size distributions of the true and optimized structures are shown in Figure 3.

true chord pore chord solid 1D Minkowski 100 80 60 40 20 0 0 100 200
true
chord pore
chord solid 1D
Minkowski
100
80
60
40
20
0
0
100
200
300
400
pore volume fraction [%]

pore diameter [micron]

Fig. 3 Pore size distribution of the true medium (black squares without line) and the optimized structures. For the chord length distribution optimized in the vertical direction (dashed black line), the diameter of the pores is too small. For the medium with the chord length optimized in three directions (bold black line), the results are in good agreement with the true structure. The size of the pores is overestimated in case of the medium with optimized Minkowski functionals (gray line).

The pores of the medium with the chord length distribution of the solid phase fitted in vertical direction are too small. Inversely, the pores of the medium with the optimized Minkowski functionals are too large. In a numerical experiment, the water distribution for water unsaturated conditions was determined. Initially, the pore space was completely filled with water. Then, a pressure was applied at the lower boundary to drain the sample. A water filled pore

© 2005 WILEY-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co. KGaA, Weinheim

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becomes air filled, if the following three conditions are fulfilled: (i) A neighbored voxel is part of the continuous air phase, (ii) the water in the voxel is part of the continuous water phase and (iii) the applied pressure p is larger than the capillary forces in the voxel. The calculated phase distribution was compared with experiments in [7]. The retained water as a function of the increasing pressure is shown in Figure 4. The water saturation for the structure with optimized Minkowski functionals was

true chord pore chord solid Minkowski 100 80 60 40 20 0 0 1000 2000 3000
true
chord pore
chord solid
Minkowski
100
80
60
40
20
0
0
1000
2000
3000
4000
5000
water saturation [%]

p [Pa]

Fig. 4 Water saturation as a function of pressure applied at the lower boundary in a numerical experiment. Due to the overestimated sizes of the pores in the medium with optimized Minkowski functionals (gray line), the water saturation is below the value calculated for the true geometry. The values for the target structure are between the results of the media with optimized chord length distribution.

smaller than calculated with the true medium. This deviation is caused by the weak capillary forces in the large pores. The results for the media with optimized chord length distributions correspond to the numerical experiments carried out with the true image. As shown in Figure 2, the chord length optimized for the pores results in some thin vertically oriented structures with high capillary forces. Due to these thin pores, the sample remains water saturated for slightly higher pressure values than in case of the target structure.

  • 4 Summary and conclusions

Flow and transport processes depend on the geometric properties of the complex pore space. To analyze this influence, random media were generated that were identical with a sand packing with respect to an analyzed geometric property. The pore size distribution and the distribution of water and air were calculated for the true and the optimized media. The best agreement resulted for a medium with the chord length distribution optimized in x-, y - and z - direction. The pores of the medium with optimized Minkowski functionals were larger than those in the true medium. In contrast to the chord length distribution, the Minkowski functionals depend only on the direct neighborhood of the voxels and contain no information about the correlation over larger distances. The quantification of pore space must include correlations over larger distances.

References

[1] C. Fesch et al., Effect of water content on solute transport in a porous medium containing reactive micro-aggregates, Journal of Contaminant Hydrology, 33, 211–230 (1998). [2] O. Dury, Organic pollutants in unsaturated soils: Effect of butanol on as a model contaminant on phase saturation and flow character- istics of a quartz sand packing, Ph.D. thesis, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, (1997). [3] P. Lehmann et al., Effect of hysteresis on water flow in sand column with a fluctuating capillary fringe, Journal of Contaminant Hydrology, 33, 81–100 (1998). [4] H. J. Vogel and A. Kretzschmar, Topological characterization of pore space in soil - sample preparation and digital image analysis, Geoderma, 73, 23–38. [5] K. Michielsen and H. De Raedt, Integral geometry morphological image analysis, Physics Reports 347, 461–538 (2001). [6] M. S. Talukdar et al., Stochastic reconstruction of chalk from 2D images, Transport in porous medis, 48, 101–123 (2002). [7] P. Lehmann, Mapping the structure of porous media using tomography with X-rays from tubes, thermal neutrons and X-rays from synchrotrons: Numerical analysis, experiments and applications, Vadoze Zone Journal, in revision (2005).

© 2005 WILEY-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co. KGaA, Weinheim