Flow in a rock fracture is surprisingly sensitive to the evolution of flow paths that develop as a result of dissolution. Net dissolution may either increase or decrease permeability uniformly within the fracture, or may form a preferential flow path through which most of the injected fluid flows, depending on the prevailing ambient mechanical and chemical conditions. A flow-through test was completed on an artificial fracture in limestone at room temperature under ambient confining stress of 3.5 MPa. The sample was sequentially circulated by water of two different compositions through the 1500 h duration of the experiment; the first 935 h by tap groundwater, followed by 555 h of distilled water. Measurements of differential pressures between the inlet and the outlet, fluid and dissolved mass fluxes, and concurrent X-ray CT imaging and sectioning were used to characterize the evolution of flow paths within the limestone fracture. During the initial circulation of groundwater, the differential pressure increased almost threefold, and was interpreted as a net reduction in permeability as the contacting asperities across the fracture are removed, and the fracture closes. With the circulation of distilled water, permeability initially reduces threefold, and ultimately increases by two orders of magnitude. This spontaneous switch from net decrease in permeability, to net increase occurred with no change in flow rate or applied effective stress, and is attributed to the evolving localization of flow path as evidenced by CT images. Based on the X-ray CT characterizations, a flow path-dependent flow model was developed to simulate the evolution of flow paths within the fracture and its influence on the overall flow behaviors of the injected fluid in the fracture.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Environmental Chemistry
- Water Science and Technology