Ensemble Kalman filter versus ensemble smoother for assessing hydraulic conductivity via tracer test data assimilation
Abstract. Estimating the spatial variability of hydraulic conductivity K in natural aquifers is important for predicting the transport of dissolved compounds. Especially in the nonreactive case, the plume evolution is mainly controlled by the heterogeneity of K. At the local scale, the spatial distribution of K can be inferred by combining the Lagrangian formulation of the transport with a Kalman-filter-based technique and assimilating a sequence of time-lapse concentration C measurements, which, for example, can be evaluated on site through the application of a geophysical method. The objective of this work is to compare the ensemble Kalman filter (EnKF) and the ensemble smoother (ES) capabilities to retrieve the hydraulic conductivity spatial distribution in a groundwater flow and transport modeling framework. The application refers to a two-dimensional synthetic aquifer in which a tracer test is simulated. Moreover, since Kalman-filter-based methods are optimal only if each of the involved variables fit to a Gaussian probability density function (pdf) and since this condition may not be met by some of the flow and transport state variables, issues related to the non-Gaussianity of the variables are analyzed and different transformation of the pdfs are considered in order to evaluate their influence on the performance of the methods. The results show that the EnKF reproduces with good accuracy the hydraulic conductivity field, outperforming the ES regardless of the pdf of the concentrations.