On Modeling Weak Sinks in MODPATH



Regional groundwater flow systems often contain both strong sinks and weak sinks. A strong sink extracts water from the entire aquifer depth, while a weak sink lets some water pass underneath or over the actual sink. The numerical groundwater flow model MODFLOW may allow a sink cell to act as a strong or weak sink, hence extracting all water that enters the cell or allowing some of that water to pass. A physical strong sink can be modeled by either a strong sink cell or a weak sink cell, with the latter generally occurring in low-resolution models. Likewise, a physical weak sink may also be represented by either type of sink cell. The representation of weak sinks in the particle tracing code MODPATH is more equivocal than in MODFLOW. With the appropriate parameterization of MODPATH, particle traces and their associated travel times to weak sink streams can be modeled with adequate accuracy, even in single layer models. Weak sink well cells, on the other hand, require special measures as proposed in the literature to generate correct particle traces and individual travel times and hence capture zones. We found that the transit time distributions for well water generally do not require special measures provided aquifer properties are locally homogeneous and the well draws water from the entire aquifer depth, an important observation for determining the response of a well to non-point contaminant inputs.