An analytical framework for quantifying aquifer response time scales associated with transient boundary conditions


A major challenge in studying coupled groundwater and surface-water interactions arises from the considerable difference in the response time scales of groundwater and surface-water systems affected by external forcings. Although coupled models representing the interaction of groundwater and surface-water systems have been studied for over a century, most have focused on groundwater quantity or quality issues rather than response time. In this study, we present an analytical framework, based on the concept of mean action time (MAT), to estimate the time scale required for groundwater systems to respond to changes in surface-water conditions. MAT can be used to estimate the transient response time scale by analyzing the governing mathematical model. This framework does not require any form of transient solution (either numerical or analytical) to the governing equation, yet it provides a closed form mathematical relationship for the response time as a function of the aquifer geometry, boundary conditions, and flow parameters. Our analysis indicates that aquifer systems have three fundamental time scales: (i) a time scale that depends on the intrinsic properties of the aquifer, (ii) a time scale that depends on the intrinsic properties of the boundary condition, and (iii) a time scale that depends on the properties of the entire system. We discuss two practical scenarios where MAT estimates provide useful insights and we test the MAT predictions using new laboratory-scale experimental data sets.

Publication Title

Journal of Hydrology