Main content area

Towards a computationally efficient free-surface groundwater flow boundary condition for large-scale hydrological modelling

Rahman, M., Rosolem, R., Kollet, S.J., Wagener, T.
Advances in water resources 2019 v.123 pp. 225-233
base flow, groundwater, groundwater flow, groundwater recharge, hydrologic cycle, hydrologic models, model validation, rivers, runoff, saturated flow, soil water, watersheds
Shallow groundwater is a critical component of the terrestrial water cycle. It sustains baseflow in rivers, supplies root zones with soil moisture during dry periods, and directly influences the land-atmosphere exchange processes. Nonetheless, the integration of groundwater into large-scale hydrological models remains challenging. The most detailed way of representing groundwater dynamics is to incorporate three-dimensional, variably saturated flow processes in the subsurface representation of hydrological models. However, such detailed modelling is still a challenge for global hydrological applications, mainly due to its high computational demand. In this study, a free-surface boundary condition called the Groundwater Flow Boundary (GFB) is developed to represent groundwater dynamics in a more computationally-efficient manner than the full three-dimensional models do. We evaluate GFB using two synthetic test cases, namely an infiltration experiment and a tilted-v catchment, which focus on groundwater recharge and discharge processes, respectively. The simulation results from GFB are compared with a three-dimensional groundwater flow model and with an over-simplified approach using a free-drainage lower boundary condition to assess the impact of our assumptions on model results. We demonstrate that GFB is computationally more efficient compared to the three-dimensional model with limited loss in model performance when simulating infiltration and runoff dynamics.