Using dual-domain advective-transport simulation to reconcile multiple-tracer ages and estimate dual-porosity transport parameters

Ward E. Sanford, L. Niel Plummer, Gerolamo Casile, Ed Busenberg, David L. Nelms, Peter Schlosser

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Dual-domain transport is an alternative conceptual and mathematical paradigm to advection-dispersion for describing the movement of dissolved constituents in groundwater. Here we test the use of a dual-domain algorithm combined with advective pathline tracking to help reconcile environmental tracer concentrations measured in springs within the Shenandoah Valley, USA. The approach also allows for the estimation of the three dual-domain parameters: mobile porosity, immobile porosity, and a domain exchange rate constant. Concentrations of CFC-113, SF6, 3H, and 3He were measured at 28 springs emanating from carbonate rocks. The different tracers give three different mean composite piston-flow ages for all the springs that vary from 5 to 18 years. Here we compare four algorithms that interpret the tracer concentrations in terms of groundwater age: piston flow, old-fraction mixing, advective-flow path modeling, and dual-domain modeling. Whereas the second two algorithms made slight improvements over piston flow at reconciling the disparate piston-flow age estimates, the dual-domain algorithm gave a very marked improvement. Optimal values for the three transport parameters were also obtained, although the immobile porosity value was not well constrained. Parameter correlation and sensitivities were calculated to help quantify the uncertainty. Although some correlation exists between the three parameters being estimated, a watershed simulation of a pollutant breakthrough to a local stream illustrates that the estimated transport parameters can still substantially help to constrain and predict the nature and timing of solute transport. The combined use of multiple environmental tracers with this dual-domain approach could be applicable in a wide variety of fractured-rock settings.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)5002-5016
Number of pages15
JournalWater Resources Research
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 1 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • dual domain
  • environmental tracer
  • fractured rock
  • groundwater
  • spring
  • transport

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Water Science and Technology


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