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Quantification of Colloid Retention and Release by Straining and Energy Minima in Variably Saturated Porous Media

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The prediction of colloid transport in unsaturated porous media in the presence of large energy barrier is hampered by scant information of the proportional retention by straining and attractive interactions at surface energy minima. This study aims to fill this gap by performing saturated and unsaturated column experiments in which colloid pulses were added at various ionic strengths (ISs) from 0.1 to 50 mM. Subsequent flushing with deionized water released colloids held at the secondary minimum. Next, destruction of the column freed colloids held by straining. Colloids not recovered at the end of the experiment were quantified as retained at the primary minimum. Results showed that net colloid retention increased with IS and was independent of saturation degree under identical IS and Darcian velocity. Attachment rates were greater in unsaturated columns, despite an over 3-fold increase in pore water velocity relative to saturated columns, because additional retention at the readily available air-associated interfaces (e.g., the air-water-solid [AWS] interfaces) is highly efficient. Complementary visual data showed heavy retention at the AWS interfaces. Retention by secondary minima ranged between 8% and 46% as IS increased, and was greater for saturated conditions. Straining accounted for an average of 57% of the retained colloids with insignificant differences among the treatments. Finally, retention by primary minima ranged between 14% and 35% with increasing IS, and was greater for unsaturated conditions due to capillary pinning.

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