Improving a regional model using reduced complexity and parameter estimation

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The availability of powerful desktop computers and graphical user interfaces for ground water flow models makes possible the construction of ever more complex models. A proposed copper-zinc sulfide mine in northern Wisconsin offers a unique case in which the same hydrologic system has been modeled using a variety of techniques covering a wide range of sophistication and complexity. Early in the permitting process, simple numerical models were used to evaluate the necessary amount of water to be pumped from the mine, reductions in streamflow, and the drawdowns in the regional aquifer. More complex models have subsequently been used in an attempt to refine the predictions. Even after so much modeling effort, questions regarding the accuracy and reliability of the predictions remain.

We have performed a new analysis of the proposed mine using the two-dimensional analytic element code GFLOW coupled with the nonlinear parameter estimation code UCODE. The new model is parsimonious, containing fewer than 10 parameters, and covers a region several times larger in areal extent than any of the previous models. The model demonstrates the suitability of analytic element codes for use with parameter estimation codes. The simplified model results are similar to the more complex models; predicted mine inflows and UCODE-derived 95% confidence intervals are consistent with the previous predictions. More important, the large areal extent of the model allowed us to examine hydrological features not included in the previous models, resulting in new insights about the effects that far-field boundary conditions can have on near-field model calibration and parameterization. In this case, the addition of surface water runoff into a lake in the headwaters of a stream while holding recharge constant moved a regional ground watershed divide and resulted in some of the added water being captured by the adjoining basin. Finally, a simple analytical solution was used to clarify the GFLOW model's prediction that, for a model that is properly calibrated for heads, regional drawdowns are relatively unaffected by the choice of aquifer properties, but that mine inflows are strongly affected. Paradoxically, by reducing model complexity, we have increased the understanding gained from the modeling effort.

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Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Improving a regional model using reduced complexity and parameter estimation
Series title Groundwater
Volume 40
Issue 2
Year Published 2002
Language English
Publisher National Ground Water Association
Description 12 p.
First page 132
Last page 143
Country United States
State Wisconsin
County Forest County, Langlade County
Online Only (Y/N) N
Additional Online Files (Y/N) N
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