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On the validity of modeling concepts for (the simulation of) groundwater flow in lowland peat areas – case study at the Zegveld experimental field

Author(s): P. Trambauer | J. Nonner | J. Heijkers | S. Uhlenbrook

Journal: Hydrology and Earth System Sciences Discussions
ISSN 1812-2108

Volume: 8;
Issue: 1;
Start page: 2065;
Date: 2011;
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The groundwater flow models currently used in the western part of The Netherlands and in other similar peaty areas are thought to be a too simplified representation of the hydrological reality. One of the reasons is that due to the schematization of the subsoil, its heterogeneity cannot be represented adequately. Moreover, the applicability of Darcy's law in these types of soils has been questioned, but this law forms the basis of most groundwater flow models. With the purpose of assessing the typical heterogeneity of the subsoil and to verify the applicability of Darcy's law fieldwork was completed at a research site in the western part of The Netherlands. The assessments were carried for the so called Complex Confining Layer (CCL), which is the Holocene peaty to clayey layer overlying Pleistocene sandy deposits. Borehole drilling through the CCL with a hand auger was completed and revealed the typical heterogeneous character of this layer showing a dominance of muddy, humified peat which is alternated with fresher peat and clay. Slug tests were carried out to study the applicability of Darcy's law given that previous studies suggested the non validity for humified peat soils given by a variable hydraulic conductivity K with the hydraulic gradient. For higher humification degrees, the experiments indeed suggested a variable K, but this seems to be the result of the inappropriate use of steady-state formulae for transient experiments in peaty environments. The muddy peat sampled has a rather plastic nature, and the high compressibility of this material leads to transient behavior. However, using transient formulae, the slug tests conducted for different initial hydraulic heads showed that there was hardly any evidence of a variation of the hydraulic conductivity with the hydraulic gradient. Therefore, Darcy's law can be used for peat soils. The heterogeneity of the subsoil and the apparent applicability of Darcy's law were taking into account for the detailed heterogeneous model that was prepared for the research site. A MODFLOW model consisting of 13 layers in which 4 layers represent the heterogeneous CCL was set up for an average year assuming steady state conditions and for the winter of 2009 to 2010 adopting transient conditions. The transient model was then extended for a whole hydrological year and for an eight year period with the objective of visualizing the flowpaths through the CCL. The results from these models were compared with a 10 layer model whereby the CCL is represented by a single layer assuming homogeneity. From the comparison of the two model types the conclusion could be drawn that a single layer schematization of the CCL produces flowpath patterns which are not the same but still quite similar to a 4 layer representation of the CCL. However, the single layer schematization results in a considerable underestimation of the flow velocity, and subsequently a longer travel time, through the CCL. Therefore, a single layer model of the CCL seems quite appropriate to represent the flow behavior of the shallow groundwater system, but would be inappropriate for transport modeling through the CCL.

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