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Flow focusing in unsaturated fracture networks: a numerical investigation

Zhang, K., Wu, Y.S., Bodvarsson, G.S., Liu, H.H.
Vadose zone journal 2004 v.3 no.2 pp. -
simulation models, unsaturated conditions, infiltration (hydrology), unsaturated flow, vadose zone, soil water movement, Nevada
A numerical modeling study is presented to investigate flow-focusing phenomena in a large-scale fracture network, constructed using field data collected from the unsaturated zone of Yucca Mountain, Nevada, the proposed repository site for high-level nuclear waste. The two-dimensional fracture network for an area of 100 by 150 m contains more than 20000 fractures. Steady state unsaturated flow in the fracture network is investigated for different boundary conditions and rock properties. Simulation results indicate that flow paths are generally vertical, and that horizontal fractures mainly provide pathways between neighboring vertical paths. In addition to fracture properties, flow-focusing phenomena are also affected by rock-matrix permeability, with lower matrix permeability leading to a high degree of flow focusing. The simulation results further indicate that the average spacing between flow paths in a layered system tends to increase and flow tends to become more focused, with depth.