Five common numerical techniques for solving the advection-dispersion equation (finite difference, predictor corrector, total variation diminishing, method of characteristics, and modified method of characteristics) were tested using simulations of a controlled conservative tracer-test experiment through a heterogeneous, two-dimensional sand tank. The experimental facility was constructed using discrete, randomly distributed, homogeneous blocks of five sand types. This experimental model provides an opportunity to compare the solution techniques: the heterogeneous hydraulic-conductivity distribution of known structure can be accurately represented by a numerical model, and detailed measurements can be compared with simulated concentrations and total flow through the tank. The present work uses this opportunity to investigate how three common types of results - simulated breakthrough curves, sensitivity analysis, and calibrated parameter values - change in this heterogeneous situation given the different methods of simulating solute transport. The breakthrough curves show that simulated peak concentrations, even at very fine grid spacings, varied between the techniques because of different amounts of numerical dispersion. Sensitivity-analysis results revealed: (1) a high correlation between hydraulic conductivity and porosity given the concentration and flow observations used, so that both could not be estimated; and (2) that the breakthrough curve data did not provide enough information to estimate individual values of dispersivity for the five sands. This study demonstrates that the choice of assigned dispersivity and the amount of numerical dispersion present in the solution technique influence estimated hydraulic conductivity values to a surprising degree.
Additional publication details
A comparison of solute-transport solution techniques and their effect on sensitivity analysis and inverse modeling results