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Estimating groundwater nitrate fate and transport is an important task in water resources and environmental management because excess nitrate loads may have negative impacts on human and environmental health. This work discusses the development of a simplified nitrate transport model and its implementation as a geographic information system (GIS)-based screening tool, whose purpose is to estimate nitrate loads to surface water bodies from onsite wastewater-treatment systems (OWTS). Key features of this project are the reduced data demands due to the use of a simplified model, as well as ease of use compared to traditional groundwater flow and transport models, achieved by embedding the model within a GIS. The simplified conceptual model consists of a simplified groundwater flow model in the surficial aquifer, and a simplified transport model that makes use of an analytical solution to the advection-dispersion equation, used for determining nitrate fate and transport. Denitrification is modeled using first order decay in the analytical solution with the decay constant obtained from literature and/or site-specific data. The groundwater flow model uses readily available topographic data to approximate the hydraulic gradient, which is then used to calculate seepage velocity magnitude and direction. The flow model is evaluated by comparing the results to a previous numerical modeling study of the U.S. Naval Air Station, Jacksonville (NAS) performed by the USGS. The results show that for areas in the vicinity of the NAS, the model is capable of predicting groundwater travel times from a source to a surface water body to within ±20 years of the USGS model, 75% of the time. The transport model uses an analytical solution based on the one by Domenico and Robbins (1985), the results of which are then further processed so that they may be applied to more general, real-world scenarios. The solution, as well as the processing steps are tested using artificially constructed scenarios, each meant to evaluate a certain aspect of the solution. For comparison purposes, each scenario is solved using a well known numerical contaminant transport model. The results show that the analytical solution provides a reasonable approximation to the numerical result. However, it generally underestimates the concentration distribution to varying degrees depending on choice of parameters, especially along the plume centerline. These results are in agreement with previous studies (Srinivasan et al., 2007; West et al., 2007). The adaptation of the analytical solution to more realistic scenarios results in an adequate approximation to the numerically calculated plume, except in areas near the advection front, where the model produces a plume whose shape differs noticeably from the numerical solution. Load calculations are carried out using a mass balance approach where the system is considered to be in the steady state. The steady-state condition allows for a load estimate by subtracting the mass removal rate due to denitrification from the input mass rate. The input mass rate is calculated by taking into account advection and dispersion while the mass removal rate due to denitrification is calculated from the definition of a first order reaction. Comparison with the synthetic scenarios of the transport model shows that for the test cases, when decay rates are low, the model agrees well with the load calculation from the numerical model. As decay rates increase and the plume becomes shorter, the input load is overestimated by about 9% in the test cases and the mass removed due to denitrification is underestimated by 30% in the worst case. These results are likely due to the underestimation of concentration values by the analytical solution of the transport model.
A Thesis Submitted to the Department of Scientific Computing in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Master of Science.
Includes bibliographical references.
Florida State University
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