A Lattice Boltzmann model for simulating water flow at pore scale in unsaturated soils

Xiaoxian Zhang, John W. Crawford, Iain M. Young

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Scopus citations


The Lattice Boltzmann (LB) method is an established prominent model for simulating water flow at pore scale in saturated porous media. However, its application in unsaturated soil is less satisfactory because of the difficulties associated with most two-phase LB models in simulating immiscible fluids, such as water and air, which have contrasting densities and viscosities. While progress has been made in developing LB models for fluids with high density ratio, they are still prone to numerical instability and cannot accurately describe the interfacial friction on water-air interface in unsaturated media. Considering that one important application of the LB model in porous materials is to calculate their hydraulic properties when flow is at steady state, we develop a simple LB model to simulate steady water flow at pore scale in unsaturated soils. The method consists of two steps. The first one is to determine water distribution within the soil structure using a morphological model; once the water distribution is known, its interfaces with air are fixed. The second step is to use a single-phase LB model to simulate water flow by treating the water-air interfaces as free-flow boundaries where the shear resistance of air to water flow is assumed to be negligible. We propose a method to solve such free-flow boundaries, and validate the model against analytical solutions of flows of water film over non-slip walls in both two and three dimensions. We then apply the model to calculate water retention and hydraulic properties of a medium acquired using X-ray computed tomography at resolution of 6 μm. The model is quasi-static, similar to the porous network model, but is an improvement as it directly simulates water flow in the pore geometries acquired by tomography without making any further simplifications.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)152-160
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Hydrology
StatePublished - Jul 1 2016
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Generated from Scopus record by KAUST IRTS on 2023-02-15

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Water Science and Technology


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