Vertical transverse mixing is known to be a controlling factor in natural attenuation of extended biodegradable plumes originating from continuously emitting sources. We perform conservative and reactive tracer tests in a quasi two-dimensional 14 m long sandbox in order to quantify vertical mixing in heterogeneous media. The filling mimics natural sediments including a distribution of different hydro-facies, made of different sand mixtures, and micro-structures within the sand lenses. We quantify the concentration distribution of the conservative tracer by the analysis of digital images taken at steady state during the tracer-dye experiment. Heterogeneity causes plume meandering, leading to distorted concentration profiles. Without knowledge about the velocity distribution, it is not possible to determine meaningful vertical dispersion coefficients from the concentration profiles. Using the stream-line pattern resulting from an inverse model of previous experiments in the sandbox, we can correct for the plume meandering. The resulting vertical dispersion coefficient is approximately ≈ 4 × 10-9m2/s. We observe no distinct increase in the vertical dispersion coefficient with increasing travel distance, indicating that heterogeneity has hardly any impact on vertical transverse mixing. In the reactive tracer test, we continuously inject an alkaline solution over a certain height into the domain that is occupied otherwise by an acidic solution. The outline of the alkaline plume is visualized by adding a pH indicator into both solutions. From the height and length of the reactive plume, we estimate a transverse dispersion coefficient of ≈ 3 × 10-9m2/s. Overall, the vertical transverse dispersion coefficients are less than an order of magnitude larger than pore diffusion coefficients and hardly increase due to heterogeneity. Thus, we conclude for the assessment of natural attenuation that reactive plumes might become very large if they are controlled by vertical dispersive mixing. © 2005 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
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