Transient hydraulic tomography analysis of fourteen pumping tests at a highly heterogeneous multiple aquifer-aquitard system

Zhanfeng Zhao, Walter A. Illman, Yuanyuan Zha, Tian Chyi Jim Yeh, Chin Man Bill Mok, Steven J. Berg, Dongmei Han

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Hydraulic tomography based on geostatistics has proven to be robust in characterizing subsurface heterogeneity in hydraulic conductivity (K) and specific storage (Ss) through the joint inversion of drawdown records from multiple pumping tests. However, the spatially variable estimates can be smooth or even erroneous for areas where pumping/observation data densities are not high. Previous hydraulic tomography surveys conducted at the North Campus Research Site (NCRS) on the University of Waterloo campus in Waterloo, Canada, revealed that the estimated hydraulic parameters were smooth and the known aquitard was erroneously identified as a high K zone. This was likely the consequence of the site being highly heterogeneous, while only utilizing four pumping tests and not having measurable drawdowns in the low K aquitard for inverse modeling. Here, we investigate whether improved K and Ss estimates could be obtained through the inclusion of additional pumping test data by stressing both aquifer and aquitard zones for a sufficiently long period. Specifically, six additional pumping/injection tests were conducted at the site, and a transient hydraulic tomography analysis with 14 tests was completed. Results reveal that there is a significant improvement to the K and Ss tomograms in terms of the visual correspondence with various geologic units, including its connectivity. More importantly, with the availability of additional data, we found that the inverse model now can better capture the high and low K features for nine boreholes when compared with K values obtained from permeameter tests. The estimated K and Ss tomograms are then used for the forward simulation of one additional pumping test not used for model calibration, revealing reasonable predictions. While encouraging results are obtained by including a large number of pumping tests to the transient hydraulic tomography analysis, stratigraphic boundaries are still smoothed, which is a direct consequence of utilizing a geostatistics-based inversion approach that assumes stationarity in statistical properties. To capture such sharp boundaries, incorporation of additional data types, such as geological and geophysical information, may be necessary when data densities are not sufficiently high.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number1864
JournalWater (Switzerland)
Issue number9
StatePublished - 2019


  • Aquitards
  • Connectivity
  • Geostatistical inverse modeling
  • Hydraulic conductivity
  • Hydraulic tomography
  • Specific storage
  • Subsurface heterogeneity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Biochemistry
  • Aquatic Science
  • Water Science and Technology


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