The MT3DMS groundwater solute transport model was modified to simulate solute transport in the unsaturated zone by incorporating the unsaturated-zone flow (UZF1) package developed for MODFLOW. The modified MT3DMS code uses a volume-averaged approach in which Lagrangian-based UZF1 fluid fluxes and storage changes are mapped onto a fixed grid. Referred to as UZF-MT3DMS, the linked model was tested against published benchmarks solved analytically as well as against other published codes, most frequently the U.S. Geological Survey's Variably-Saturated Two-Dimensional Flow and Transport Model. Results from a suite of test cases demonstrate that the modified code accurately simulates solute advection, dispersion, and reaction in the unsaturated zone. Two- and three-dimensional simulations also were investigated to ensure unsaturated-saturated zone interaction was simulated correctly. Because the UZF1 solution is analytical, large-scale flow and transport investigations can be performed free from the computational and data burdens required by numerical solutions to Richards' equation. Results demonstrate that significant simulation runtime savings can be achieved with UZF-MT3DMS, an important development when hundreds or thousands of model runs are required during parameter estimation and uncertainty analysis. Three-dimensional variably saturated flow and transport simulations revealed UZF-MT3DMS to have runtimes that are less than one tenth of the time required by models that rely on Richards' equation. Given its accuracy and efficiency, and the wide-spread use of both MODFLOW and MT3DMS, the added capability of unsaturated-zone transport in this familiar modeling framework stands to benefit a broad user-ship.
Additional publication details
Modeling variably saturated subsurface solute transport with MODFLOW-UZF and MT3DMS