Existing methods for measuring water imbibition rates are inadequate when imbibition rates are small (e.g., clay soils and many igneous rocks). We developed an improved laboratory method for performing imbibition measurements on soil or rock cores with a wide range of hydraulic properties. Core specimens are suspended from an electronic strain gauge (load cell) in a closed chamber while maintaining the lower end of the core in contact with a free water surface in a constant water level reservoir. The upper end of the core is open to the atmosphere. During imbibition, mass increase of the core is recorded continuously by a datalogger that converts the load cell voltage signal into mass units using a calibration curve. Computer automation allows imbibition rate measurement on as many as eight cores simultaneously and independently. Performance of each component of the imbibition apparatus was evaluated using a set of rock cores (2.5 cm in diameter and 2-5 cm in length) from a single lithostratigraphic unit composed of non-to-moderately welded ash-flow tuff (a glass-rich pyroclastic rock partially fused by heat and pressure) with porosities ranging from 0.094 to 0.533 m3 m-3. Reproducibility of sample handling and testing procedures was demonstrated using replicate measurements. Precision and accuracy of load cell measurements were assessed using mass balance calculations and indicated agreement within a few tenths of a percent of total mass. Computed values of sorptivity, S, ranged from 8.83 x 10-6 to 4.55 x 10-4 m s-0.5. The developed method should prove useful for measuring imbibition rates on a wide range of porous materials.
Additional publication details
Improved method for measuring water imbibition rates on low-permeability porous media