Use of a Numerical Model to Simulate the Hydrologic System and Transport of Contaminants Near Joint Base Cape Cod, Western Cape Cod, Massachusetts

Scientific Investigations Report 2018-5139
Prepared in cooperation with the Air Force Civil Engineer Center
By: , and 



Historical training and operational activities at Joint Base Cape Cod (JBCC) on western Cape Cod, Massachusetts, have resulted in the release of contaminants into an underlying glacial aquifer that is the sole source of water to the surrounding communities. Remedial systems have been installed to contain and remove contamination from the aquifer. Groundwater withdrawals for public supply are expected to increase as the region continues to urbanize. Increases in water-supply withdrawals and wastewater return flow likely will affect the hydrologic system around JBCC and could affect the transport of any contamination that may remain in the aquifer following remediation of contamination from the JBCC. The U.S. Geological Survey, in cooperation with the Air Force Civil Engineer Center, developed a numerical, steady-state regional model of the Sagamore flow lens on western Cape Cod and evaluated the potential effects of future (2030) groundwater withdrawals on water levels, streamflows, hydraulic gradients, and advective transport near the JBCC.

The aquifer consists generally of sandy sediments underlain by impermeable bedrock and is bounded laterally by a freshwater/saltwater interface. Data on the altitude of the bedrock surface, position of the freshwater/saltwater interface, lithology of the aquifer, spatial distribution of recharge, and hydrologic boundaries were incorporated into the three-dimensional, finite-difference groundwater flow model.

Some inputs into the numerical model—aquifer properties, leakances, and recharge—are represented as parameters to facilitate estimation of optimal parameter values in an inverse calibration. A hybrid parameterization scheme, with both zones of piecewise constancy and pilot points, is used to represent hydraulic conductivity; other adjustable parameters include recharge, boundary leakance, and porosity. Data on water levels, the distribution of subsurface contamination, and groundwater ages were compiled, evaluated, and used to develop observations of long-term average hydraulic gradients and advective-transport patterns. These observations of steady-state hydrologic conditions were combined with the parameterized groundwater model in an inverse calibration to estimate model parameters that best fit the observations.

Current (2010) and future (2030) conditions were simulated in the calibrated model to characterize the groundwater flow system and to determine potential effects of increased groundwater withdrawals on advective-transport patterns at the JBCC. Groundwater flow and advective transport are radially outward from a water-table divide in the northern part of the JBCC; flow diverges from the divide toward all points of the compass. Most groundwater flow and contaminant transport occur in shallow parts of the aquifer. On average, about one-half of the groundwater flux occurs in the shallowest 20 percent of the saturated thickness; shallow flow is even more predominant near streams and lakes. Projected (2030) increases in groundwater withdrawals decrease water levels by a maximum of about 1.2 feet in the northern part of the JBCC; drawdowns exceeding 1 foot generally are limited to areas near the largest increases in withdrawals, such as in the northern part of the JBCC, near Long Pond in Falmouth, and in eastern Barnstable. Streamflow decreases average about 6 percent; the largest decreases are in areas with the largest drawdowns. Changes in hydraulic-gradient directions at the water table exceed 1 degree in about 13 percent of the aquifer, generally near groundwater divides where gradient magnitudes are small and near large groundwater withdrawals. Predictions of advective transport from randomly selected locations at the water table are similar for current (2010) and future (2030) groundwater withdrawals. The results indicate that projected increases in groundwater withdrawals affect water levels and streamflows, but effects on hydraulic gradients and advective transport at the JBCC likely are small.

Several underlying assumptions inherent in the model, including observations and weights used in the calibration, representation of local-scale heterogeneity, and simulation of the freshwater/saltwater interface, could affect model calibration and predictions; these assumptions were evaluated with alternative models and alternative inverse calibrations. Eight alternative calibrations were performed in which different, but reasonable, observations and weights were used. The preferred calibrated model had the best overall fit to the observations.

Fine-grained silty sediments occur in many parts of the aquifer, and silt lenses can locally affect hydraulic gradients. A set of alternative models in which silts were represented with different correlation distances and hydraulic conductivities indicated that explicitly representing silt lenses could affect model calibration but that the implicit representation of local-scale heterogeneity may be sufficient at the regional scale to represent regional-scale hydraulic gradients. For the coastal boundary, two alternative models representing silty and sandy seabeds and their associated interface positions were developed to test the importance of the assumed coastal-boundary condition. The two alternative models resulted in different predictions of streamflow—streamflows increase with smaller (silty) seabed leakances. However, predictions of advective transport, particularly near the JBCC, generally were similar between the alternative and preferred calibrated models, indicating that the seabed leakance and associated interface position at the coastal boundary does not affect simulations of advective transport in inland parts of the aquifer.

Suggested Citation

Walter, D.A., McCobb, T.D., and Fienen, M.N., 2019, Use of a numerical model to simulate the hydrologic system and transport of contaminants near Joint Base Cape Cod, western Cape Cod, Massachusetts: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2018–5139, 98 p.,

ISSN: 2328-0328 (online)

Study Area

Table of Contents

  • Abstract
  • Introduction
  • Data Compilation and Analysis
  • Numerical Model Development
  • Simulated Current (2010) Hydrologic System and Effects of Future (2030) Water-Supply Withdrawals and Wastewater Disposal
  • Factors Affecting Model Calibration and Predictions
  • Summary and Conclusions
  • References Cited

Additional publication details

Publication type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Title Use of a Numerical Model to Simulate the Hydrologic System and Transport of Contaminants Near Joint Base Cape Cod, Western Cape Cod, Massachusetts
Series title Scientific Investigations Report
Series number 2018-5139
DOI 10.3133/sir20185139
Year Published 2019
Language English
Publisher U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location Reston, VA
Contributing office(s) New England Water Science Center
Description Report: xi, 98 p.; Data Release
Country United States
State Massachusetts
Other Geospatial Cape Cod
Online Only (Y/N) Y
Additional Online Files (Y/N) N