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Featured article from geoscience journal

Water Resources Research, 2008, Issue 44
Alteration of fractures by precipitation and dissolution in gradient reaction environments: Computational results and stochastic analysis
Abstract:

Precipitation and dissolution reactions within fractures alter apertures, which in turn affects their flow and transport properties. Different aperture alteration patterns occur in different flow and reaction regimes, and they are also influenced by preferential flow resulting from spatial variations in the aperture. We consider the alteration of variable-aperture fractures in gradient reaction regimes, where fluids are in chemical equilibrium with a mineral everywhere but precipitation and dissolution are driven by solubility gradients associated with temperature variations. The temperature field is defined by a geothermal gradient corresponding to a conduction-dominated heat transfer regime. Monte Carlo simulations on computer-generated aperture fields vividly illustrate pattern formation resulting from two-way feedback between fluid flow and reactive alteration. In dissolution-controlled systems, distinct dissolution channels develop along the dominant flow direction, while elongated precipitate bodies form perpendicular to the mean flow direction in precipitation-controlled systems. Aperture variability accelerates the increase and decrease of effective transmissivity by dissolution and precipitation, respectively. The dominance of precipitation versus dissolution is determined by the angle between the mean hydraulic gradient and solubility/temperature gradient. Development of pronounced anisotropy with oriented elongate features is the key feature of aperture alteration in gradient reaction regimes. A stochastic analysis is developed, which consistently predicts general trends in the aperture field during reactive alteration, including the mean, variance, and spatial covariance structure. Our results are relevant to understanding the long-term diagenetic evolution of fractures in conduction-dominated heat transfer regimes and related problems such as emplacement of ocean bed methane hydrates.