How long does it take for aquifer recharge or aquifer discharge processes to reach steady state?


Groundwater flow models are usually characterized as being either transient flow models or steady state flow models. Given that steady state groundwater flow conditions arise as a long time asymptotic limit of a particular transient response, it is natural for us to seek a finite estimate of the amount of time required for a particular transient flow problem to effectively reach steady state. Here, we introduce the concept of mean action time (MAT) to address a fundamental question: how long does it take for a groundwater recharge process or discharge processes to effectively reach steady state? This concept relies on identifying a cumulative distribution function, F(t;x), which varies from F(0;x)=0 to F(t;x)→1- as t→∞, thereby providing us with a measurement of the progress of the system towards steady state. The MAT corresponds to the mean of the associated probability density function f(t;x)=dF/dt, and we demonstrate that this framework provides useful analytical insight by explicitly showing how the MAT depends on the parameters in the model and the geometry of the problem. Additional theoretical results relating to the variance of f(t;x), known as the variance of action time (VAT), are also presented. To test our theoretical predictions we include measurements from a laboratory-scale experiment describing flow through a homogeneous porous medium. The laboratory data confirms that the theoretical MAT predictions are in good agreement with measurements from the physical model. © 2013 The Authors.

Publication Title

Journal of Hydrology