Modeling Coupled Evaporation and Seepage in Ventilated Cavities

Ghezzehei, T. A. and Trautz, R. C. and Finsterle, S. and Cook, P. J. and Ahlers, C. F.

Vadose Zone Journal, vol. 3(3), pp. 806–818 , 2004.


Cavities excavated in unsaturated geological formations are important to activities such as nuclear waste disposal and mining. Such cavities provide a unique setting for simultaneous occurrence of seepage and evaporation. Previously, inverse numerical modeling of field liquid-release tests and associated seepage into cavities were used to provide seepage-related large-scale formation properties, ignoring the impact of evaporation. The applicability of such models was limited to the narrow range of ventilation conditions under which the models were calibrated. The objective of this study was to alleviate this limitation by incorporating evaporation into the seepage models. We modeled evaporation as an isothermal vapor diffusion process. The semiphysical model accounts for the relative humidity (RH), temperature, and ventilation conditions of the cavities. The evaporation boundary layer thickness (BLT) over which diffusion occurs was estimated by calibration against free-water evaporation data collected inside the experimental cavities. The estimated values of BLT were 5 to 7 mm for the open underground drifts and 20 mm for niches closed off by bulkheads. Compared with previous models that neglected the effect of evaporation, this new approach showed significant improvement in capturing seepage fluctuations into open cavities of low RH. At high relative-humidity values (>85%), the effect of evaporation on seepage was very small.