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A constitutive model for water flow in unsaturated fractured rocks

Guarracino, Luis, Quintana, Fernando
Hydrological processes 2009 v.23 no.5 pp. 697-701
atmospheric pressure, hydraulic conductivity, physical models, porous media, rocks, unsaturated flow
A conceptual model for describing effective saturation in fractured hard rock is presented. The fracture network and the rock matrix are considered as an equivalent continuum medium where each fracture is conceptualized as a porous medium of granular structure and the rock matrix is assumed to be impermeable. The proposed model is based on the representation of a rough-walled fracture by an equivalent porous medium, which is described using classical constitutive models. A simple closed-form equation for the effective saturation is obtained when the van Genuchten model is used to describe saturation inside fractures and fractal laws are assumed for both aperture and number of fractures. The relative hydraulic conductivity for the fractured rock is predicted from a simple relation derived by Liu and Bodvarsson. The proposed constitutive model contains three independent parameters, which may be obtained by fitting the proposed effective saturation curve to experimental data. Two of the model parameters have physical meaning and can be identified with the reciprocal of the air entry pressure values in the fractures of minimum and maximum apertures. Effective saturation and relative hydraulic conductivity curves match fairly well the simulated constitutive relations obtained by Liu and Bodvarsson.