Articles | Volume 20, issue 5
Research article
13 May 2016
Research article |  | 13 May 2016

Testing alternative uses of electromagnetic data to reduce the prediction error of groundwater models

Nikolaj Kruse Christensen, Steen Christensen, and Ty Paul A. Ferre

Abstract. In spite of geophysics being used increasingly, it is often unclear how and when the integration of geophysical data and models can best improve the construction and predictive capability of groundwater models. This paper uses a newly developed HYdrogeophysical TEst-Bench (HYTEB) that is a collection of geological, groundwater and geophysical modeling and inversion software to demonstrate alternative uses of electromagnetic (EM) data for groundwater modeling in a hydrogeological environment consisting of various types of glacial deposits with typical hydraulic conductivities and electrical resistivities covering impermeable bedrock with low resistivity (clay). The synthetic 3-D reference system is designed so that there is a perfect relationship between hydraulic conductivity and electrical resistivity. For this system it is investigated to what extent groundwater model calibration and, often more importantly, model predictions can be improved by including in the calibration process electrical resistivity estimates obtained from TEM data. In all calibration cases, the hydraulic conductivity field is highly parameterized and the estimation is stabilized by (in most cases) geophysics-based regularization.

For the studied system and inversion approaches it is found that resistivities estimated by sequential hydrogeophysical inversion (SHI) or joint hydrogeophysical inversion (JHI) should be used with caution as estimators of hydraulic conductivity or as regularization means for subsequent hydrological inversion. The limited groundwater model improvement obtained by using the geophysical data probably mainly arises from the way these data are used here: the alternative inversion approaches propagate geophysical estimation errors into the hydrologic model parameters. It was expected that JHI would compensate for this, but the hydrologic data were apparently insufficient to secure such compensation. With respect to reducing model prediction error, it depends on the type of prediction whether it has value to include geophysics in a joint or sequential hydrogeophysical model calibration. It is found that all calibrated models are good predictors of hydraulic head. When the stress situation is changed from that of the hydrologic calibration data, then all models make biased predictions of head change. All calibrated models turn out to be very poor predictors of the pumping well's recharge area and groundwater age. The reason for this is that distributed recharge is parameterized as depending on estimated hydraulic conductivity of the upper model layer, which tends to be underestimated. Another important insight from our analysis is thus that either recharge should be parameterized and estimated in a different way, or other types of data should be added to better constrain the recharge estimates.

Short summary
Our primary objective in this study is to provide a virtual environment that allows users to determine the value of geophysical data and, furthermore, to investigate how best to use those data to develop groundwater models and to reduce their prediction errors. When this has been carried through for alternative data sampling, parameterization and inversion approaches, the best alternative can be chosen by comparison of prediction results between the alternatives.