Articles | Volume 19, issue 2
Research article
12 Feb 2015
Research article |  | 12 Feb 2015

Reducing the ambiguity of karst aquifer models by pattern matching of flow and transport on catchment scale

S. Oehlmann, T. Geyer, T. Licha, and M. Sauter

Abstract. Assessing the hydraulic parameters of karst aquifers is a challenge due to their high degree of heterogeneity. The unknown parameter field generally leads to a high ambiguity for flow and transport calibration in numerical models of karst aquifers. In this study, a distributed numerical model was built for the simulation of groundwater flow and solute transport in a highly heterogeneous karst aquifer in south-western Germany. Therefore, an interface for the simulation of solute transport in one-dimensional pipes was implemented into the software COMSOL Multiphysics® and coupled to the three-dimensional solute transport interface for continuum domains. For reducing model ambiguity, the simulation was matched for steady-state conditions to the hydraulic head distribution in the model area, the spring discharge of several springs and the transport velocities of two tracer tests. Furthermore, other measured parameters such as the hydraulic conductivity of the fissured matrix and the maximal karst conduit volume were available for model calibration. Parameter studies were performed for several karst conduit geometries to analyse the influence of the respective geometric and hydraulic parameters and develop a calibration approach in a large-scale heterogeneous karst system.

Results show that it is possible not only to derive a consistent flow and transport model for a 150 km2 karst area but also to combine the use of groundwater flow and transport parameters thereby greatly reducing model ambiguity. The approach provides basic information about the conduit network not accessible for direct geometric measurements. The conduit network volume for the main karst spring in the study area could be narrowed down to approximately 100 000 m3.