Quasi 3D modeling of water flow and solute transport in vadose zone and groundwater

A. Yakirevich, M. Kuznetsov, N. Weisbrod, Y. A. Pachepsky

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution


The complexity of subsurface flow systems calls for a variety of concepts leading to the multiplicity of simplified flow models. One commonly used simplification is based on the assumption that lateral flow and transport in unsaturated zone is insignificant unless the capillary fringe is involved. In such cases the flow and transport in the unsaturated zone above groundwater level can be simulated as a 1D phenomenon, whereas through groundwater they are viewed as 2D or 3D phenomena. A new approach for a numerical scheme for 3D variably saturated flow and transport is presented. A Quasi-3D approach allows representing flow in the 'vadose zone - aquifer' system by a series of 1D Richards' equations solved in variably-saturated zone and by 3D-saturated flow equation in groundwater (modified MODFLOW code). The 1D and 3D equations are coupled at the phreatic surface in a way that aquifer replenishment is calculated using the Richards' equation, and solving for the moving water table does not require definition of the specific yield parameter. The 3D advection-dispersion equation is solved in the entire domain by the MT3D code. Using implicit finite differences approximation to couple processes in the vadose zone and groundwater provides mass conservation and increase of computational efficiency. The above model was applied to simulate the impact of irrigation on groundwater salinity in the Alto Piura aquifer (Northern Peru). Studies on changing groundwater quality in arid and semi-arid lands show that irrigation return flow is one of the major factors contributing to aquifer salinization. Existing mathematical models do not account explicitly for the solute recycling during irrigation on a daily scale. Recycling occurs throughout the unsaturated and saturated zones, as function of the solute mass extracted from pumping wells. Salt concentration in irrigation water is calculated at each time step as a function of concentration of both surface water and groundwater extracted at specific locations. Three scenarios were considered: (i) use of furrow irrigation and groundwater extraction (the present situation); (ii) increase of groundwater pumping by 50% compared to the first scenario; and (iii) transition from furrow irrigation to drip irrigation, thus decreasing irrigation volume by around 60% compared to the first scenario. Results indicate that in different irrigation areas, the simulated increase rates of total dissolved solids in groundwater vary from 3 to17 mg/L/ year, depending on hydrogeological and hydrochemical conditions, volumes of water extracted, and proportion between surface water and groundwater applied. The transition from furrow irrigation to drip irrigation can decrease the negative impact of return flow on groundwater quality; however drip irrigation causes faster simulated soil salinization compared to furrow irrigation. The quasi 3D modeling appeared to be efficient in elucidating solute recycling effects on soil and groundwater salinity.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationAmerican Geophysical Union, Fall Meeting 2013
StatePublished - 1 Dec 2013


  • 1829 HYDROLOGY Groundwater hydrology
  • 1847 HYDROLOGY Modeling
  • 1830 HYDROLOGY Groundwater/surface water interaction
  • 1832 HYDROLOGY Groundwater transport


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