A method for enforcing parameter nonnegativity in Bayesian inverse problems with an application to contaminant source identification



[1] When an inverse problem is solved to estimate an unknown function such as the hydraulic conductivity in an aquifer or the contamination history at a site, one constraint is that the unknown function is known to be everywhere nonnegative. In this work, we develop a statistically rigorous method for enforcing function nonnegativity in Bayesian inverse problems. The proposed method behaves similarly to a Gaussian process with a linear variogram (i.e., unrestricted Brownian motion) for parameter values significantly greater than zero. The method uses the method of images to define a prior probability density function based on reflected Brownian motion that implicitly enforces nonnegativity. This work focuses on problems where the unknown is a function of a single variable (e.g., time). A Markov chain Monte Carlo (MCMC) method, specifically, a highly efficient Gibbs sampler, is implemented to generate conditional realizations of the unknown function. The new method is applied to the estimation of the trichloroethylene (TCE) and perchloroethylene (PCE) contamination history in an aquifer at Dover Air Force Base, Delaware, based on concentration profiles obtained from an underlying aquitard.