Abstract This investigation focuses on the development of a methodology for modeling contaminant movements in the unsaturated zones of soil columns. Such problems are of great technical as well as social interest. They are mathematically difficult and poorly understood from the physical standpoint, yet they arise in most incidents of aquifer contamination by sources near the earth's surface. Of particular concern are multiphase flows, which occur when contaminants having limited solubility in water enter the soil column. This article reports progress on several fronts in modeling subsurface contamination. First, we propose a continuum-mechanical formulation of the equations governing multiphase unsaturated flow. Second, we advance a one-dimensional finite-element collocation scheme for the nonlinear governing equation. The new scheme overcomes mass balance difficulties characteristic of this class of problems. Finally, we discuss the extension of the numerical method to the space dimensions and sketch plans for future contributions.
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