Articles | Volume 17, issue 3
Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 17, 1217–1227, 2013
https://doi.org/10.5194/hess-17-1217-2013
Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 17, 1217–1227, 2013
https://doi.org/10.5194/hess-17-1217-2013

Research article 19 Mar 2013

Research article | 19 Mar 2013

Calibration of a transient transport model to tritium data in streams and simulation of groundwater ages in the western Lake Taupo catchment, New Zealand

M. A. Gusyev1, M. Toews1, U. Morgenstern1, M. Stewart1,2, P. White1, C. Daughney1, and J. Hadfield3 M. A. Gusyev et al.
  • 1GNS Science, P.O. Box 30368, Lower Hutt, New Zealand
  • 2Aquifer Dynamics & GNS Science, P.O. Box 30368, Lower Hutt, New Zealand
  • 3Waikato Regional Council, P.O. 3038, Hamilton, New Zealand

Abstract. Here we present a general approach of calibrating transient transport models to tritium concentrations in river waters developed for the MT3DMS/MODFLOW model of the western Lake Taupo catchment, New Zealand. Tritium has a known pulse-shaped input to groundwater systems due to the bomb tritium in the early 1960s and, with its radioactive half-life of 12.32 yr, allows for the determination of the groundwater age. In the transport model, the tritium input (measured in rainfall) passes through the groundwater system, and the simulated tritium concentrations are matched to the measured tritium concentrations in the river and stream outlets for the Waihaha, Whanganui, Whareroa, Kuratau and Omori catchments from 2000–2007. For the Kuratau River, tritium was also measured between 1960 and 1970, which allowed us to fine-tune the transport model for the simulated bomb-peak tritium concentrations. In order to incorporate small surface water features in detail, an 80 m uniform grid cell size was selected in the steady-state MODFLOW model for the model area of 1072 km2. The groundwater flow model was first calibrated to groundwater levels and stream baseflow observations. Then, the transient tritium transport MT3DMS model was matched to the measured tritium concentrations in streams and rivers, which are the natural discharge of the groundwater system. The tritium concentrations in the rivers and streams correspond to the residence time of the water in the groundwater system (groundwater age) and mixing of water with different age. The transport model output showed a good agreement with the measured tritium values. Finally, the tritium-calibrated MT3DMS model is applied to simulate groundwater ages, which are used to obtain groundwater age distributions with mean residence times (MRTs) in streams and rivers for the five catchments. The effect of regional and local hydrogeology on the simulated groundwater ages is investigated by demonstrating groundwater ages at five model cross-sections to better understand MRTs simulated with tritium-calibrated MT3DMS and lumped parameter models.

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