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Comparison of groundwater-model construction methods, representations of glacial geology, model designs, and groundwater-model flow simulations within Elkhart County, Indiana

October 24, 2019

Automated data-processing methods allow hydrologists to efficiently incorporate digital well-record datasets into the construction of hydrostratigraphic frameworks for groundwater-flow models. The method selected to construct the hydrostratigraphic framework can affect the extent of geologic heterogeneity that can be included in the model. The detail generated from a hydrostratigraphic framework can affect groundwater simulation results. The effects of detail on model accuracy, groundwater-flow simulations, and particle-tracking simulations are described in this study. This report compares differences in hydrostratigraphic frameworks and results of groundwater models using (1) a method that incorporates more hydrologic judgment at the expense of using limited lithologic data and (2) a method that is more automated and uses all available lithologic data. The study additionally evaluates the effect of model discretization and inclusion of more (or less) geologic detail on simulation results.

Two methods were used to create hydrostratigraphic frameworks of glacial deposits in the St. Joseph River Basin. One method, referred to as the subjective method, manually identifies stratigraphic boundaries using a sample of well logs from State databases and uses two-dimensional kriging to create three model layers of the study area. Indicator kriging is used to define aquifer extent in each layer. The second method, referred to as the objective method, uses three-dimensional kriging to automatically create a detailed heterogeneous model of the study area using all wells logs from the State database. The objective method increases detail in the vertical by greatly increasing the number of computer groundwater model layers from 3 to 30. In Elkhart County, Indiana, a previously published model represents the product of the subjective method, and a newly calibrated model of the same area represents the product of the objective method.

An automated calibration procedure was used with the objective model (derived from the objective method) for Elkhart County. The two most-sensitive parameters for the Elkhart County objective model are horizontal hydraulic conductivity of the sand and the combined sand and gravel/gravel deposits. Vertical hydraulic conductivity of the fine-grained and intermediate-sized deposits could not be estimated, possibly indicating major flow paths are along a continuously connected series of sand and gravel deposits and not through a confining layer.

The statistics measuring model calibration accuracy for the objective model were slightly better than statistics for the subjective model (model derived from the subjective method) of Elkhart County, but the hydraulic conductivities and flow rates for the two models were different. The mean absolute errors between simulated and measured groundwater levels are 2.04 and 2.16 feet for the objective and subjective models, respectively. Simulated seepage losses from and groundwater discharges to measured stream reaches in the objective model were evenly balanced in terms of over and under simulations of measured values; the subjective model tended to overpredict measured groundwater discharge to streams. The overprediction may be related to the 58 percent greater total inflow and outflow through the subjective model. The greater flow rate through the subjective model results from higher horizontal hydraulic conductivities in the subjective model than in the objective model. Horizontal hydraulic conductivity ranged from 23.9 to 111 feet per day in the objective model and generally ranged from 170 to 370 feet per day in the subjective model. The improvement in calibration statistics for the objective model relative to the subjective model may be from increased detail in how the objective model represents the distribution of fine- and coarse-grained deposits. The improvement also could be associated with the difference in methods used to represent the continuity of the confining unit.

The effect of differences in horizontal hydraulic conductivity distributions between the two models for Elkhart County is evident in the groundwater-flow paths simulated by the objective and subjective models. At a withdrawal well location, the flow lines produced by the objective model indicate a wider contributing area than that for the subjective model. The discontinuous confining unit represented in the objective model provided the opportunity for groundwater flow to split into an upper and lower path. The split in flow simulated by the objective model at one location was independently supported by bromide concentrations in groundwater; the subjective model did not duplicate the split in flow.

Publication Year 2019
Title Comparison of groundwater-model construction methods, representations of glacial geology, model designs, and groundwater-model flow simulations within Elkhart County, Indiana
DOI 10.3133/sir20195088
Authors Leslie D. Arihood, David C. Lampe, E. Randall Bayless, Steven E. Brown
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Scientific Investigations Report
Series Number 2019-5088
Index ID sir20195088
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Water Science Center