Appendix E - Unsaturated Flow

Williams, Roy E. ; Bloomsburg, George L. ; Ralston, Dale R. ; Winter, Gerry V.
Organization: Society for Mining, Metallurgy & Exploration
Pages: 5
Publication Date: Jan 1, 1986
The term unsaturated flow refers to the conditions in which soil pores are filled partially with water and partially with air. This situation constitutes a porous material filled with immiscible fluids. Immiscible fluids by definition exhibit a distinct interface when in contact with each other resulting in a pressure discontinuity across the interface due to surface tension. The fluid that tends to wet the solid particles is called the wetting fluid and the other is the nonwetting fluid. In the air-water sys- tem, air is the nonwetting fluid and water is the wetting fluid. A somewhat analogous fluid system is that in a petroleum reservoir in which there may be up to three immiscible fluids-oil, salt water, and natural gas. The degree of wettability of the fluids is salt water + oil + gas. That is, salt water is the wetting fluid at any interface and oil is the wetting fluid at an oil-gas interface but is the nonwetting fluid at a water-oil interface. Since the oil-water and air- water systems are similar, much of the theory and methods of analyses for the air-water system or unsaturated flow have evolved through the petroleum literature. In the two-fluid system the pressure difference across an interface depends on the size of the pore space in which the interface occurs. The equation commonly used to represent this dependence is
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