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Using sequential conditioning to explore uncertainties in geostatistical characterization and in groundwater transport predictions


Rapid transmission of contaminants in groundwater can occur in alluvial gravel aquifers that are permeated by highly conductive small-scale open framework gravels (OFGs). This open framework gravel structure and the associated distribution of hydraulic properties is complex, and so assessments of contamination risks in these aquifers are highly uncertain. Geostatistical models, based on lithological data, can be used to quantitatively characterize this structure. These models can then be used to support analyses of the risks of contamination in groundwater systems. However, these geostatistical models are themselves accompanied by significant uncertainty. This is seldom considered when assessing risks to groundwater systems. Geostatistical model uncertainty can be reduced by assimilating information from hydraulic system response data, but this process can be computationally challenging. We developed a sequential conditioning method designed to address these challenges. This method is demonstrated on a transition probability based geostatistical simulation model (TP), which has been shown to be superior for representing the connectivity of high permeability pathways, such as OFGs. The results demonstrate that the common modelling practice of adopting a single geostatistical model may result in realistic predictions being overlooked, and significantly underestimate the uncertainties of groundwater transport predictions. This has important repercussions for uncertainty quantification in general. It also has repercussions if using ensemble-based methods for history matching, since it also relies on geostatistical models to generate prior parameter distributions. This work highlights the need to explore the uncertainty of geostatistical models in the context of the predictions being made.

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