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Comparative study of transient hydraulic tomography with varying parameterizations and zonations: Laboratory sandbox investigation

Luo, Ning, Zhao, Zhanfeng, Illman, Walter A., Berg, Steven J.
Journal of hydrology 2017 v.554 pp. 758-779
aquifers, drawdown, geostatistics, hydraulic conductivity, hydrologic models, model validation, monitoring, prediction, stratigraphy, tomography
Transient hydraulic tomography (THT) is a robust method of aquifer characterization to estimate the spatial distributions (or tomograms) of both hydraulic conductivity (K) and specific storage (Ss). However, the highly-parameterized nature of the geostatistical inversion approach renders it computationally intensive for large-scale investigations. In addition, geostatistics-based THT may produce overly smooth tomograms when head data used to constrain the inversion is limited. Therefore, alternative model conceptualizations for THT need to be examined. To investigate this, we simultaneously calibrated different groundwater models with varying parameterizations and zonations using two cases of different pumping and monitoring data densities from a laboratory sandbox. Specifically, one effective parameter model, four geology-based zonation models with varying accuracy and resolution, and five geostatistical models with different prior information are calibrated. Model performance is quantitatively assessed by examining the calibration and validation results. Our study reveals that highly parameterized geostatistical models perform the best among the models compared, while the zonation model with excellent knowledge of stratigraphy also yields comparable results. When few pumping tests with sparse monitoring intervals are available, the incorporation of accurate or simplified geological information into geostatistical models reveals more details in heterogeneity and yields more robust validation results. However, results deteriorate when inaccurate geological information are incorporated. Finally, our study reveals that transient inversions are necessary to obtain reliable K and Ss estimates for making accurate predictions of transient drawdown events.