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Field Study of Subsurface Heterogeneity with Steady-State Hydraulic Tomography


Department of Earth & Environmental Sciences, Waterloo Institute for Groundwater Research, University of Waterloo, 200 University Ave West, Waterloo, Canada N2L 3G1; 1-519-888-4567 ext. 38341; fax: 1-519-746-2543;


Remediation of subsurface contamination requires an understanding of the contaminant (history, source location, plume extent and concentration, etc.), and, knowledge of the spatial distribution of hydraulic conductivity (K) that governs groundwater flow and solute transport. Many methods exist for characterizing K heterogeneity, but most if not all methods require the collection of a large number of small-scale data and its interpolation. In this study, we conduct a hydraulic tomography survey at a highly heterogeneous glaciofluvial deposit at the North Campus Research Site (NCRS) located at the University of Waterloo, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada to sequentially interpret four pumping tests using the steady-state form of the Sequential Successive Linear Estimator (SSLE) (Yeh and Liu 2000). The resulting three-dimensional (3D) K distribution (or K-tomogram) is compared against: (1) K distributions obtained through the inverse modeling of individual pumping tests using SSLE, and (2) effective hydraulic conductivity (Keff) estimates obtained by automatically calibrating a groundwater flow model while treating the medium to be homogeneous. Such a Keff is often used for designing remediation operations, and thus is used as the basis for comparison with the K-tomogram. Our results clearly show that hydraulic tomography is superior to the inversions of single pumping tests or Keff estimates. This is particularly significant for contaminated sites where an accurate representation of the flow field is critical for simulating contaminant transport and injection of chemical and biological agents used for active remediation of contaminant source zones and plumes.