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Keywords:

  • groundwater modeling;
  • model calibration;
  • model validation;
  • spatial heterogeneity;
  • geostatistics;
  • kriging;
  • hydraulic tomography

[1] Groundwater modeling has become a vital component to water supply and contaminant transport investigations. An important component of groundwater modeling under steady state conditions is selecting a representative hydraulic conductivity (K) estimate or set of estimates which defines the K field of the studied region. Currently, there are a number of characterization approaches to obtain K at various scales and in varying degrees of detail, but there is a paucity of information in terms of which characterization approach best predicts flow through aquifers or drawdowns caused by some drawdown inducing events. The main objective of this paper is to assess K estimates obtained by various approaches by predicting drawdowns from independent cross-hole pumping tests and total flow rates through a synthetic heterogeneous aquifer from flow-through tests. Specifically, we (1) characterize a synthetic heterogeneous aquifer built in the sandbox through various techniques (permeameter analyses of core samples, single-hole, cross-hole, and flow-through testing), (2) obtain mean K fields through traditional analysis of test data by treating the medium to be homogeneous, (3) obtain heterogeneous K fields through kriging and steady state hydraulic tomography, and (4) conduct forward simulations of 16 independent pumping tests and six flow-through tests using these homogeneous and heterogeneous K fields and comparing them to actual data. Results show that the mean K and heterogeneous K fields estimated through kriging of small-scale K data (core and single-hole tests) yield biased predictions of drawdowns and flow rates in this synthetic heterogeneous aquifer. In contrast, the heterogeneous K distribution or “K tomogram” estimated via steady state hydraulic tomography yields excellent predictions of drawdowns of pumping tests not used in the construction of the tomogram and very good estimates of total flow rates from the flow-through tests. These results suggest that steady state groundwater model validation is possible in this laboratory sandbox aquifer if the heterogeneous K distribution and forcing functions (boundary conditions and source/sink terms) are characterized sufficiently.