Python tools for rapid development, calibration, and analysis of generalized groundwater-flow models

Friday, 19 December 2014
Jon Jeffrey Starn, USGS, National Water-Quality Assessment, East Hartford, CT, United States and Kenneth Belitz, USGS Headquarters, NAWQA, Reston, VA, United States
National-scale water-quality data sets for the United States have been available for several decades; however, groundwater models to interpret these data are available for only a small percentage of the country. Generalized models may be adequate to explain and project groundwater-quality trends at the national scale by using regional scale models (defined as watersheds at or between the HUC-6 and HUC-8 levels). Coast-to-coast data such as the National Hydrologic Dataset Plus (NHD+) make it possible to extract the basic building blocks for a model anywhere in the country. IPython notebooks have been developed to automate the creation of generalized groundwater-flow models from the NHD+. The notebook format allows rapid testing of methods for model creation, calibration, and analysis. Capabilities within the Python ecosystem greatly speed up the development and testing of algorithms. GeoPandas is used for very efficient geospatial processing. Raster processing includes the Geospatial Data Abstraction Library and image processing tools. Model creation is made possible through Flopy, a versatile input and output writer for several MODFLOW-based flow and transport model codes. Interpolation, integration, and map plotting included in the standard Python tool stack also are used, making the notebook a comprehensive platform within on to build and evaluate general models. Models with alternative boundary conditions, number of layers, and cell spacing can be tested against one another and evaluated by using water-quality data. Novel calibration criteria were developed by comparing modeled heads to land-surface and surface-water elevations. Information, such as predicted age distributions, can be extracted from general models and tested for its ability to explain water-quality trends. Groundwater ages then can be correlated with horizontal and vertical hydrologic position, a relation that can be used for statistical assessment of likely groundwater-quality conditions. Convolution with age distributions can be used to quickly ascertain likely future water-quality conditions. Although these models are admittedly very general and are still being tested, the hope is that they will be useful for answering questions related to water quality at the regional scale.