We report results of an experimental investigation into the effects of small-scale (mm–cm) heterogeneities on solute spreading and mixing in a Berea sandstone core. Pulse-tracer tests have been carried out in the Péclet number regime
and are supplemented by a unique combination of two imaging techniques. X-ray computed tomography (CT) is used to quantify subcore-scale heterogeneities in terms of permeability contrasts at a spatial resolution of approximately
, while [11C] positron emission tomography (PET) is applied to image the spatial and temporal evolution of the full tracer plume non-invasively. To account for both advective spreading and local (Fickian) mixing as driving mechanisms for solute transport, a streamtube model is applied that is based on the one-dimensional advection–dispersion equation. We refer to our modelling approach as semideterministic, because the spatial arrangement of the streamtubes and the corresponding solute travel times are known from the measured rock’s permeability map, which required only small adjustments to match the measured tracer breakthrough curve. The model reproduces the three-dimensional PET measurements accurately by capturing the larger-scale tracer plume deformation as well as subcore-scale mixing, while confirming negligible transverse dispersion over the scale of the experiment. We suggest that the obtained longitudinal dispersivity (
cm) is rock rather than sample specific, because of the ability of the model to decouple subcore-scale permeability heterogeneity effects from those of local dispersion. As such, the approach presented here proves to be very valuable, if not necessary, in the context of reservoir core analyses, because rock samples can rarely be regarded as ‘uniformly heterogeneous’.