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A lighter fluid (fresh water) flows steadily above a body of a standing heavier one (sea water) in a porous medium. If mixing by transverse pore-scale dispersion is neglected, a sharp interface separates the two fluids. Solutions for interface problems have been derived in the past, particularly for the case of interest here: sea-water intrusion in coastal aquifers. The Péclet number characterizing mixing, Pe = b′/αT where b′ is the aquifer thickness and αT is transverse dispersivity, is generally much larger than unity. Mixing is nevertheless important in a few applications, particularly in the development of a transition layer near the interface and in entrainment of sea water within this layer. The equations of flow and transport in the mixing zone comprise the unknown flux, pressure and concentration fields, which cannot be separated owing to the presence of density in the gravity term. They are nonlinear because of the advective term and the dependence of the dispersion coefficients on flux, the latter making the problem different from that of mixing between streams in laminar viscous flow.
The aim of the study is to solve the mixing-layer problem for sea-water intrusion by using a boundary-layer approximation, which was used in the past for the case of uniform flow of the upper fluid, whereas here the two-dimensional flux field is non-uniform. The boundary-layer solution is obtained in a few steps: (i) analytical potential flow solution of the upper fluid above a sharp interface is adopted; (ii) the equations are reformulated with the potential and streamfunction of this flow serving as independent variables; (iii) boundary-layer approximate equations are formulated in terms of these variables; and (iv) simple analytical solutions are obtained by the von Káarmán integral method. The agreement with an existing boundary-layer solution for uniform flow is excellent, and similarly for a solution of a particular case of sea-water intrusion with a variable-density code. The present solution may serve for estimating the thickness of the mixing layer and the rate of sea-water entrainment in applications, as well as a benchmark for more complex problems.