Resolving diffusion in clay minerals at different time scales: Combination of experimental and modeling approaches

Churakov, Sergey; Gimmi, Thomas; Unruh, Tobias; Van Loon, Luc R.; Juranyi, Fanni (2014). Resolving diffusion in clay minerals at different time scales: Combination of experimental and modeling approaches. Applied Clay Science, 96, pp. 36-44. Elsevier 10.1016/j.clay.2014.04.030

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Since no single experimental or modeling technique provides data that allow a description of transport processes in clays and clay minerals at all relevant scales, several complementary approaches have to be combined to understand and explain the interplay between transport relevant phenomena. In this paper molecular dynamics simulations (MD) were used to investigate the mobility of water in the interlayer of montmorillonite (Mt), and to estimate the influence of mineral surfaces and interlayer ions on the water diffusion. Random Walk (RW) simulations based on a simplified representation of pore space in Mt were used to estimate and understand the effect of the arrangement of Mt particles on the meso- to macroscopic diffusivity of water. These theoretical calculations were complemented with quasielastic neutron scattering (QENS) measurements of aqueous diffusion in Mt with two pseudo-layers of water performed at four significantly different energy resolutions (i.e. observation times). The size of the interlayer and the size of Mt particles are two characteristic dimensions which determine the time dependent behavior of water diffusion in Mt. MD simulations show that at very short time scales water dynamics has the characteristic features of an oscillatory motion in the cage formed by neighbors in the first coordination shell. At longer time scales, the interaction of water with the surface determines the water dynamics, and the effect of confinement on the overall water mobility within the interlayer becomes evident. At time scales corresponding to an average water displacement equivalent to the average size of Mt particles, the effects of tortuosity are observed in the meso- to macroscopic pore scale simulations. Consistent with the picture obtained in the simulations, the QENS data can be described using a (local) 3D diffusion at short observation times, whereas at sufficiently long observation times a 2D diffusive motion is clearly observed. The effects of tortuosity measured in macroscopic tracer diffusion experiments are in qualitative agreement with RW simulations. By using experimental data to calibrate molecular and mesoscopic theoretical models, a consistent description of water mobility in clay minerals from the molecular to the macroscopic scale can be achieved. In turn, simulations help in choosing optimal conditions for the experimental measurements and the data interpretation. (C) 2014 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


08 Faculty of Science > Institute of Geological Sciences

UniBE Contributor:

Churakov, Sergey, Gimmi, Thomas


500 Science > 550 Earth sciences & geology








Thomas Gimmi

Date Deposited:

07 Aug 2015 15:11

Last Modified:

05 Dec 2022 14:48

Publisher DOI:





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