Forced imbibition in natural porous media: comparison between experiments and continuum models

Phys Rev E Stat Nonlin Soft Matter Phys. 2007 Mar;75(3 Pt 2):036305. doi: 10.1103/PhysRevE.75.036305. Epub 2007 Mar 13.


A well-characterized set of large-scale laboratory experiments is presented, illustrating forced imbibition displacements in the presence of irreducible wetting phase saturation in a cylindrical, homogeneous Berea sandstone rock. Experiments are designed to operate in the regime of compact microscopic flows and large-scale viscous instability. The distribution of fluid phases during the flow process is visualized by high-resolution computed tomography imaging. Linear stability analysis and high-accuracy numerical simulations are employed to analyze the ability of macroscopic continuum equations to provide a consistent approximation of the displacement process. The validity of the equilibrium relative permeability functions, which form the basis for the continuum model, is fundamentally related to the stability of the displacement process. It is shown that not only is the stable flow regime modeled accurately by existing continuum models, but the onset of instability as well as the initial unstable modes are also determined with reasonable accuracy for unstable flows. However, the continuum model is found to be deficient in the case of fully developed unstable flows.