Little quantitative experimental data are available describing the behavior of immiscible contaminants in unsaturated heterogeneous porous media. Such data are, however, essential to the fundamental understanding of the processes governing nonaqueous phase liquid behavior and for the validation of modeling tools. The effect of macro-heterogeneity on light nonaqueous phase liquid (LNAPL) flow and distribution in the unsaturated zone was investigated experimentally by simulating LNAPL spills in layered soil systems consisting of sands with various textures. Two multiphase flow experiments were conducted in a two-dimensional flume (180 × 120 × 8 cm). The vertical distribution of water and LNAPL pressure were measured using hydrophilic and hydrophobic tensiometers. An image analysis technique was used to estimate the saturation distribution of the fluids in a two-dimensional vertical plane. The experiments show that LNAPL entrapment, which contributes to long-term soil and water contamination, depends strongly on the initial water saturation and water pressure at the layer interfaces and on the texture contrasts between the soil layers, which lead to permeability and capillary barrier effects. Thus, the knowledge of the initial water pressure and saturation distribution in unsaturated layered soil formations is critical to the correct prediction of LNAPL infiltration and drainage.

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