Comparison of inverse methods for reconstructing the release history of a groundwater contamination source


  • Roseanna M. Neupauer,

  • Brian Borchers,

  • John L. Wilson


Inverse methods can be used to reconstruct the release history of a known source of groundwater contamination from concentration data describing the present-day spatial distribution of the contaminant plume. Using hypothetical release history functions and contaminant plumes, we evaluate the relative effectiveness of two proposed inverse methods, Tikhonov regularization (TR) and minimum relative entropy (MRE) inversion, in reconstructing the release history of a conservative contaminant in a one-dimensional domain [Skaggs and Kabala, 1994; Woodbury and Ulrych, 1996]. We also address issues of reproducibility of the solution and the appropriateness of models for simulating random measurement error. The results show that if error-free plume concentration data are available, both methods perform well in reconstructing a smooth source history function. With error-free data the MRE method is more robust than TR in reconstructing a nonsmooth source history function; however, the TR method is more robust if the data contain measurement error. Two error models were evaluated in this study, and we found that the particular error model does not affect the reliability of the solutions. The results for the TR method have somewhat greater reproducibility because, in some cases, its input parameters are less subjective than those of the MRE method; however, the MRE solution can identify regions where the data give little or no information about the source history function, while the TR solution cannot.