Consistent Simulation Framework for Efficient Mass Discharge and Source Depletion Time Predictions of DNAPL Contaminants in Heterogeneous Aquifers Under Uncertainty

Wednesday, 17 December 2014
Jonas Koch and Wolfgang Nowak, University of Stuttgart, Stuttgart, Germany
Predicting DNAPL fate and transport in heterogeneous aquifers is challenging and subject to an uncertainty that needs to be quantified. Models for this task needs to be equipped with an accurate source zone description, i.e., the distribution of mass of all partitioning phases (DNAPL, water, and soil) in all possible states ((im)mobile, dissolved, and sorbed), mass-transfer algorithms, and the simulation of transport processes in the groundwater. Such detailed models tend to be computationally cumbersome when used for uncertainty quantification. Therefore, a selective choice of the relevant model states, processes, and scales are both sensitive and indispensable. We investigate the questions: what is a meaningful level of model complexity and how to obtain an efficient model framework that is still physically and statistically consistent. In our proposed model, aquifer parameters and the contaminant source architecture are conceptualized jointly as random space functions. The governing processes are simulated in a three-dimensional, highly-resolved, stochastic, and coupled model that can predict probability density functions of mass discharge and source depletion times. We apply a stochastic percolation approach as an emulator to simulate the contaminant source formation, a random walk particle tracking method to simulate DNAPL dissolution and solute transport within the aqueous phase, and a quasi-steady-state approach to solve for DNAPL depletion times. Using this novel model framework, we test whether and to which degree the desired model predictions are sensitive to simplifications often found in the literature. With this we identify that aquifer heterogeneity, groundwater flow irregularity, uncertain and physically-based contaminant source zones, and their mutual interlinkages are indispensable components of a sound model framework.