During unsteady or transient ground-water flow, the fluid mass per unit volume of aquifer changes as the potentiometric head changes, and solute transport is affected by this change in fluid storage. Three widely applied numerical models of two-dimensional transport partially account for the effects of transient flow by removing terms corresponding to the fluid continuity equation from the transport equation, resulting in a simpler governing equation. However, fluid-storage terms remaining in the transport equation that change during transient flow are, in certain cases, held constant in time in these models. For the case of increasing heads, this approximation, which is unacknowledged in these models' documentation, leads to transport velocities that are too high, and increased concentration at fluid and solute sources. If heads are dropping in time, computed transport velocities are too low. Using parameters that somewhat exaggerate the effects of this approximation, an example numerical simulation indicates solute travel time error of about 14 percent but only minor errors due to incorrect dilution volume. For horizontal flow and transport models that assume fluid density is constant, the product of porosity and aquifer thickness changes in time: initial porosity times initial thickness plus the change in head times the storage coefficient. This formula reduces to the saturated thickness in unconfined aquifers if porosity is assumed to be constant and equal to specific yield. The computational cost of this more accurate representation is insignificant and is easily incorporated in numerical models of solute transport.
Additional publication details
Modeling transport in transient ground-water flow: an unacknowledged approximation