An Integrated Approach for Estimating Groundwater Storage Variations in Regional Aquifers, 20-R8051

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Principal Investigators
Alexander Y. Sun
Ronald Green
Timothy Michaels

Inclusive Dates:  04/01/09 – Current

Background - Groundwater is the primary source of drinking and irrigation water supplies in many parts of the world. Groundwater aquifers are increasingly stressed by population growth and urban expansion, especially in semiarid regions. Therefore, there is a pressing need to (i) improve our capability to monitor and predict water availability and (ii) manage the limited water supplies in a way that ensures equitable, sustainable, and economically prudent decisions. Tracking groundwater storage variations in regional and local aquifers is challenging because groundwater levels are monitored at a limited number of locations at best. The Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellite jointly launched by the U.S. and Germany provides a unique opportunity to monitor the temporal variations in terrestrial water storage (TWS), which in turn can be related to groundwater storage (GWS) variations. Recent studies have demonstrated the potential usefulness of GRACE data for estimating GWS. However, few have considered the integration of the GRACE data for real-world water resources management. The combined use of GRACE data, in situ measurements, and land surface and groundwater models remains inaccessible to the majority of local water managers.

Approach - The reliability of groundwater management models may be adversely affected by uncertainties in model structure, parameter, and initial and boundary conditions. The conventional groundwater model calibration process mainly involves minimizing the discrepancy between observed and predicted groundwater pressure heads through adjusting model properties. The inverse solution often is not unique. This project explores the integration of GRACE-derived GWS anomaly data as an additional constraint in groundwater model calibration. The approach consists of (i) isolating GWS anomalies from GRACE data by removing other significant TWS components; (ii) validating the results using in situ measurements and other sources; (iii) formulating a multi-objective optimization strategy to simultaneously estimate specific yield, recharge rate, and hydraulic conductivity; and (iv) developing a web-based tool for visualization.

Accomplishments - The Edwards-Trinity Plateau aquifer (area ~100,000 km2) in Texas was selected to demonstrate the technical approach. To date, GRACE-derived GWS for the Edwards-Trinity Plateau aquifer were successfully extracted and validated using soil moisture data and in situ water level measurements. Results show that GRACE-derived data capture the trends in the Edwards-Trinity Plateau aquifer well. An algorithm was developed for multi-objective optimization using GRACE-derived GWS and successfully tested via synthetic groundwater models. One peer-reviewed journal paper was published, three conference abstracts were submitted, and multiple presentations were given to the local water resources management community.

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