Trends, prospects and challenges in quantifying flow and transport through fractured rocks

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Among the current problems that hydrogeologists face, perhaps there is none as challenging as the characterization of fractured rock (Faybishenko and Benson 2000). This paper discusses issues associated with the quantification of flow and transport through fractured rocks on scales not exceeding those typically associated with single- and multi-well pressure (or flow) and tracer tests. As much of the corresponding literature has focused on fractured crystalline rocks and hard sedimentary rocks such as sandstones, limestones (karst is excluded) and chalk, so by default does this paper. Direct quantification of flow and transport in such rocks is commonly done on the basis of fracture geometric data coupled with pressure (or flow) and tracer tests, which therefore form the main focus. Geological, geophysical and geochemical (including isotope) data are critical for the qualitative conceptualization of flow and transport in fractured rocks, and are being gradually incorporated in quantitative flow and transport models, in ways that this paper unfortunately cannot describe but in passing. The hydrogeology of fractured aquifers and other earth science aspects of fractured rock hydrology merit separate treatments. All evidence suggests that rarely can one model flow and transport in a fractured rock consistently by treating it as a uniform or mildly nonuniform isotropic continuum. Instead, one must generally account for the highly erratic heterogeneity, directional dependence, dual or multicomponent nature and multiscale behavior of fractured rocks. One way is to depict the rock as a network of discrete fractures (with permeable or impermeable matrix blocks) and another as a nonuniform (single, dual or multiple) continuum. A third way is to combine these into a hybrid model of a nonuniform continuum containing a relatively small number of discrete dominant features. In either case the description can be deterministic or stochastic. The paper contains a brief assessment of these trends in light of recent experimental and theoretical findings, ending with a short list of prospects and challenges for the future.

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