Because the continuum approach is relatively simple and straightforward to implement, it has been commonly used in modeling flow and transport in unsaturated fractured rock. However, the usefulness of this approach can be questioned in terms of its adequacy for representing fingering flow and transport in unsaturated fractured rock. The continuum approach thus needs to be evaluated carefully by comparing simulation results with field observations directly related to unsaturated flow and transport processes. This paper reports on such an evaluation, based on a combination of model calibration and prediction, using data from an infiltration test carried out in a densely fractured rock within the unsaturated zone of Yucca Mountain, Nevada. Comparisons between experimental and modeling results show that the continuum approach may be able to capture important features of flow and transport processes observed from the test. The modeling results also show that matrix diffusion may have a significant effect on the overall transport behavior in unsaturated fractured rocks, which can be used to estimate effective fracture-matrix interface areas based on tracer transport data. While more theoretical, numerical, and experimental studies are needed to provide a conclusive evaluation, this study suggests that the continuum approach is useful for modeling flow and transport in unsaturated, densely fractured rock. ?? 2002 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.
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Modeling flow and transport in unsaturated fractured rock: An evaluation of the continuum approach