U.S. Department of Energy


Date of this Version



WATER RESOURCES RESEARCH, VOL. 48, W06501 (2012); doi:10.1029/2011WR010675,


Tracer tests performed under natural or forced gradient flow conditions can provide useful information for characterizing subsurface properties, through monitoring, modeling, and interpretation of the tracer plume migration in an aquifer. Nonreactive tracer experiments were conducted at the Hanford 300 Area, along with constant-rate injection tests and electromagnetic borehole flow meter tests. A Bayesian data assimilation technique, the method of anchored distributions (MAD) (Rubin et al., 2010), was applied to assimilate the experimental tracer test data with the other types of data and to infer the three-dimensional heterogeneous structure of the hydraulic conductivity in the saturated zone of the Hanford formation. In this study, the Bayesian prior information on the underlying random hydraulic conductivity field was obtained from previous field characterization efforts using constant-rate injection and borehole flow meter test data. The posterior distribution of the conductivity field was obtained by further conditioning the field on the temporal moments of tracer breakthrough curves at various observation wells. MAD was implemented with the massively parallel three-dimensional flow and transport code PFLOTRAN to cope with the highly transient flow boundary conditions at the site and to meet the computational demands of MAD. A synthetic study proved that the proposed method could effectively invert tracer test data to capture the essential spatial heterogeneity of the three-dimensional hydraulic conductivity field. Application of MAD to actual field tracer data at the Hanford 300 Area demonstrates that inverting for spatial heterogeneity of hydraulic conductivity under transient flow conditions is challenging and more work is needed.