Magnetic resonance imaging of nonaqueous phase liquid during soil vapor extraction in heterogeneous porous media

Yanjie Chu, Charles J. Werth, Albert J. Valocchi, Hongkyu Yoon, Andrew G. Webb

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Soil vapor extraction (SVE) is commonly used to remediate nonaqueous phase liquids (NAPLs) from the vadose zone. This paper aims to determine the effect of grain size heterogeneity on the removal of NAPL in porous media during SVE. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) was used to observe and quantify the amount and location of NAPL in flow-through columns filled with silica gel grains. MRI is unique because it is nondestructive, allowing three-dimensional images to be taken of the phases as a function of space and time. Columns were packed with silica gel in three ways: coarse grains (250-550 μm) only, fine grains (32-63 μm) only, and a core of fine grains surrounded by a shell of coarse grains. Columns saturated with water were drained under a constant suction head, contaminated with decane, and then drained to different decane saturations. Each column was then continuously purged with water-saturated nitrogen gas and images were taken intermittently. Results showed that at residual saturation, a sharp volatilization front moved through the columns filled with either coarse-grain or fine-grain silica gel. In the heterogeneous columns, the volatilization front in the core lagged just behind the shell because gas flow was greater through the shell and decane in the core diffused outward to the shell. When decane saturation in the core was above residual saturation, decane volatilization occurred near the inlet, the relative decane saturation throughout the core dropped uniformly, and decane in the core flowed in the liquid phase to the shell to replenish volatilized decane. These results indicate that NAPL trapped in low-permeability zones can flow to replenish areas where NAPL is lost due to SVE. However, when residual NAPL saturation is reached, NAPL flow no longer occurs and diffusion limits removal from low-permeability zones.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)15-37
Number of pages23
JournalJournal of Contaminant Hydrology
Issue number1-4
StatePublished - Sep 2004


  • Heterogeneous
  • MRI
  • NAPL
  • Soil vapor extraction
  • Volatilization

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Water Science and Technology


Dive into the research topics of 'Magnetic resonance imaging of nonaqueous phase liquid during soil vapor extraction in heterogeneous porous media'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this