A field evidence model: how to predict transport in heterogeneous aquifers at low investigation level

Alraune Zech, Peter Dietrich, Sabine Attinger, Georg Teutsch

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Aquifer heterogeneity in combination with data scarcity is a major challenge for reliable solute transport prediction. Velocity fluctuations cause non-regular plume shapes with potentially long-tailing and/or fast-travelling mass fractions. High monitoring cost and a shortage of simple concepts have limited the incorporation of heterogeneity into many field transport models up to now.

We present an easily applicable hierarchical conceptualization strategy for hydraulic conductivity to integrate aquifer heterogeneity into quantitative flow and transport modelling. The modular approach combines large-scale deterministic structures with random substructures. Depending on the modelling aim, the required structural complexity can be adapted. The same holds for the amount of monitoring data. The conductivity model is constructed step-wise following field evidence from observations, seeking a balance between model complexity and available field data. The starting point is a structure of deterministic blocks, derived from head profiles and pumping tests. Then, subscale heterogeneity in the form of random binary inclusions is introduced to each block. Structural parameters can be determined, for example, from flowmeter measurements or hydraulic profiling.

As proof of concept, we implemented a predictive transport model for the heterogeneous MADE site. The proposed hierarchical aquifer structure reproduces the plume development of the MADE-1 transport experiment without calibration. Thus, classical advection–dispersion equation (ADE) models are able to describe highly skewed tracer plumes by incorporating deterministic contrasts and effects of connectivity in a stochastic way without using uni-modal heterogeneity models with high variances. The reliance of the conceptual model on few observations makes it appealing for a goal-oriented site-specific transport analysis of less well investigated heterogeneous sites.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-15
JournalHydrology and Earth System Sciences
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 4 Jan 2021


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