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Some geological implications of the flow of clay-water mixtures



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Rocco, Stefano 


This thesis investigates three problems in the general area of environmental fluid mechanics. The first two problems are related to liquid or gas flow through clay-water suspensions, with relevance for the underground storage of radioactive waste and also for understanding the mechanism of eruption in mud volcanoes. The third problem centres on the different problem of mixing in a turbulent buoyant plume.

First, the injection of gas and water from a central source into a two-dimensional layer of clay confined between two circular horizontal plates is investigated. This provides a model of the potential pressurisation and failure of the seal rock around a radioactive waste repository as may arise if gas is continuously generated in the repository. As the gas injection pressure is gradually increased the cell walls deform and the clay moves radially outwards. However, at a critical radius, the liquid-clay interface becomes unstable and a series of channels propagate through the clay. When one of the channels reaches the edge of the domain the gas escapes and the pressure is released. As a result, the domain relaxes by elastic deformation and the clay seals the channel. In this way, continuous fluid injection leads to episodic release of gas from the cell.

The second problem concerns the flow of mud along a vertical conduit driven by the combined effect of reservoir pressure and buoyancy associated with the gas injected at the base of the conduit. This represents an analogue model of the eruption of a mud volcano, in which mud rises from a deep reservoir to the surface. I find that the pressure associated with the reservoir and any buoyancy force produced by the migration of gas from deep in the reservoir to the surface leads to a continuous eruption if the net pressure is greater than the yield stress of the clay. If the reservoir pressure falls during such an event, the eruption will eventually stop, once the pressure reaches a dynamic yield stress condition. Only later, if the reservoir pressure increases to the static yield stress of the clay will the eruption start again, and this can lead to a series of eruption cycles which depend on the non-Newtonian rheology of the clay. In contrast, if this pressure is smaller than the yield stress of the clay, a series of episodic gas burst events can occur until the conduit is cleared of mud.

The third problem relates to the mixing in a turbulent buoyant plume. Through a series of new experiments and some complementary theoretical modelling I show that the mixing in a turbulent plume is strongly affected by the eddies and leads to significant longitudinal dispersion in the flow. The implications of the modelling for determining the residence time distribution of the fluid in the plume is discussed.





Woods, Andrew W.


flow and fracturing of non-Newtonian fluids, fluid mechanics of clay-water mixtures, radioactive waste repositories, mud volcanoes, 2D plumes


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge