Effects of microstructure on water imbibition in sandstones using X-ray computed tomography and neutron radiography

Yixin Zhao, Shanbin Xue, Songbai Han, Zhongwei Chen, Shimin Liu, Derek Elsworth, Linfeng He, Jianchao Cai, Yuntao Liu, Dongfeng Chen

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40 Scopus citations


Capillary imbibition in variably saturated porous media is important in defining displacement processes and transport in the vadose zone and in low-permeability barriers and reservoirs. Nonintrusive imaging in real time offers the potential to examine critical impacts of heterogeneity and surface properties on imbibition dynamics. Neutron radiography is applied as a powerful imaging tool to observe temporal changes in the spatial distribution of water in porous materials. We analyze water imbibition in both homogeneous and heterogeneous low-permeability sandstones. Dynamic observations of the advance of the imbibition front with time are compared with characterizations of microstructure (via high-resolution X-ray computed tomography (CT)), pore size distribution (Mercury Intrusion Porosimetry), and permeability of the contrasting samples. We use an automated method to detect the progress of wetting front with time and link this to square-root-of-time progress. These data are used to estimate the effect of microstructure on water sorptivity from a modified Lucas-Washburn equation. Moreover, a model is established to calculate the maximum capillary diameter by modifying the Hagen-Poiseuille and Young-Laplace equations based on fractal theory. Comparing the calculated maximum capillary diameter with the maximum pore diameter (from high-resolution CT) shows congruence between the two independent methods for the homogeneous silty sandstone but less effectively for the heterogeneous sandstone. Finally, we use these data to link observed response with the physical characteristics of the contrasting media—homogeneous versus heterogeneous—and to demonstrate the sensitivity of sorptivity expressly to tortuosity rather than porosity in low-permeability sandstones.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4963-4981
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2017

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geochemistry and Petrology
  • Geophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)


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