A solute breakthrough curve measured during a two-well tracer test was successfully predicted in 1986 using specialized contaminant transport models. Water was injected into a confined, unconsolidated sand aquifer and pumped out 125 feet (38.3 m) away at the same steady rate. The injected water was spiked with bromide for over three days; the outflow concentration was monitored for a month. Based on previous tests, the horizontal hydraulic conductivity of the thick aquifer varied by a factor of seven among 12 layers. Assuming stratified flow with small dispersivities, two research groups accurately predicted breakthrough with three-dimensional (12-layer) models using curvilinear elements following the arc-shaped flowlines in this test.
Can contaminant transport models commonly used in industry, that use rectangular blocks, also reproduce this breakthrough curve? The two-well test was simulated with four MODFLOW-based models, MT3D (FD and HMOC options), MODFLOWT, MOC3D, and MODFLOW-SURFACT.
Using the same 12 layers and small dispersivity used in the successful 1986 simulations, these models fit almost as accurately as the models using curvilinear blocks. Subtle variations in the curves illustrate differences among the codes. Sensitivities of the results to number and size of grid blocks, number of layers, boundary conditions, and values of dispersivity and porosity are briefly presented. The fit between calculated and measured breakthrough curves degenerated as the number of layers and/or grid blocks decreased, reflecting a loss of model predictive power as the level of characterization lessened. Therefore, the breakthrough curve for most field sites can be predicted only qualitatively due to limited characterization of the hydrogeology and contaminant source strength.
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Can contaminant transport models predict breakthrough?