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Simulation of groundwater-flow dynamics in the U.S. Northern High Plains driven by multi-model estimates of surficial aquifer recharge

February 1, 2024

There is growing interest in incorporating higher-resolution groundwater modeling within the framework of large-scale land surface models (LSMs), including processes such as three-dimensional flow, variable soil saturation, and surface water/groundwater interactions. Conversely, complex groundwater models (e.g., the U.S. Geological Survey Groundwater-Flow Model, MODFLOW) often use simpler representations of land surface dynamics (e.g., surface vegetation, evapotranspiration, recharge) and may benefit from higher process fidelity and temporal resolutions in these inputs. This study investigates the potential of improving groundwater representation in LSMs and land surface dynamics in MODFLOW through forcing MODFLOW with recharge from LSMs. Groundwater simulations build on an existing and well-calibrated MODFLOW model of the U.S. Northern High Plains aquifer, a hydrologically complex basin under the dual impacts of conversion of native vegetation to intense irrigated agricultural fields and climate change. Simulated groundwater recharge from four different land models are used to drive MODFLOW groundwater simulations. Results show relatively large discrepancies between recharge estimates among simulations. Forcing MODFLOW using recharge simulated by some of the LSMs in place of a simple water balance model marginally improves MODFLOW groundwater simulation. Further, our results support the efficacy of coupling LSMs to a sophisticated groundwater model such as MODFLOW. The coupling results in notable improvements in matching the historical groundwater levels through reduction of the skewness coefficient in percent bias histogram (from 1.50 and 1.41 in original LSMs to 0.44 and 0.27, respectively, when MODFLOW is forced by groundwater recharge from LSMs) and reduction of bias. This modeling effort seeks to identify the best compromise between comprehensive land surface processes from global LSMs and advanced representation of groundwater from regional models.

Publication Year 2024
Title Simulation of groundwater-flow dynamics in the U.S. Northern High Plains driven by multi-model estimates of surficial aquifer recharge
DOI 10.1016/j.jhydrol.2024.130703
Authors Farshid Felfelani, Joseph D. Hughes, Fei Chen, Aubrey L Dugger, Timothy Schneider, David Gochis, Jonathan P. Traylor, Hedeff I. Essaid
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Journal of Hydrology
Index ID 70252073
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization WMA - Integrated Modeling and Prediction Division