Hydraulic conductivity and porosity heterogeneity controls on environmental performance metrics: Implications in probabilistic risk analysis

Arianna Libera, Christopher V. Henri, Felipe P.J. de Barros

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)


Heterogeneities in natural porous formations, mainly manifested through the hydraulic conductivity (K) and, to a lesser degree, the porosity (ϕ), largely control subsurface flow and solute transport. The influence of the heterogeneous structure of K on transport processes has been widely studied, whereas less attention is dedicated to the joint heterogeneity of conductivity and porosity fields. Our study employs Monte Carlo simulations to investigate the coupled effect of K−ϕ spatial variability on the transport behavior (and uncertainty) of conservative and reactive plumes within a 3D aquifer domain. We explore multiple scenarios, characterized by different levels of heterogeneity of the geological properties, and compare the computational results from the joint K−ϕ heterogeneous system with the results originating from generally adopted constant ϕ conditions. In our study, the spatially variable K−ϕ fields are positively correlated. We statistically analyze key Environmental Performance Metrics: first arrival times and peak mass fluxes for non-reactive species and increased lifetime cancer risk for reactive chlorinated solvents. The conservative transport simulations show that considering coupled K−ϕ fields decreases the plume dispersion, increases both the first arrival times of solutes and the peak mass fluxes at the observation planes. A positive correlation between aquifer connectivity and peak mass fluxes is identified for both homogeneous and heterogeneous ϕ. Our conservative transport results indicate that the relevance of ϕ variability can depend on the metric of interest, the control plane-source distance as well as the level of heterogeneity of the conductivity field. The analysis on reactive transport shows that ϕ variability only slightly affects the mean increased lifetime cancer risk at the control planes but leads to a considerable reduction of the cancer risk uncertainty. We also see that the sensitivity of cancer risk towards ϕ heterogeneity can be influenced by the level of variability of the conductivity field, the source-to-control plane distance, but is not affected by the manner in which the contaminant concentration is computed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-12
Number of pages12
JournalAdvances in Water Resources
Publication statusPublished - May 2019
Externally publishedYes

Programme Area

  • Programme Area 2: Water Resources


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