Deterministic versus stochastic modelling of unsaturated flow in a sandy field soil based on dual tracer breakthrough data

Gunnar Nützmann, Stanisław Maciejewski, Wioletta Gorczewska-Langner


The 216 km2 Neuenhagen Millcreeck catchment can be characterized as a drought-sensitive landscape in NE Germany. It is therefore of fundamental human interest to understand how water that fell as precipitation moves through the unsaturated soils and recharges groundwater. Additionally, a better knowledge of nutrient transport from soil to groundwater is important, especially in landscapes with light sandy soils. For a better understanding of these processes a dual tracer field experiment with bromide (Br–) and deuterium (D2O) was carried out some years ago. The aim of the present study is to use the results of this experiment to model tracer transport in the unsaturated zone via two different concepts, the classical deterministic advection-dispersion equation and a new stochastic approach. The advantage of the stochastic modelling method proposed here for field-scale tracer application is to produce reliable information about expected total solute fluxes from the unsaturated zone to groundwater and about mean transit times. Moreover, this allows one to evaluate the mass of solute in the soil profile and to determine the range of water velocity fluctuations. Field experiments should be concentrated on estimation of fluctuation of water flow velocity to make stochastic models more accurate. To summarize, this work contributes to new modelling methods for the simulation of water and solute transport in unsaturated sandy soils which are heavily affected by droughts and irregular hydrological processes in the subsurface


Unsaturated flow, tracer transport, breakthrough curve, deterministic modelling, stochastic modelling

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