Skip to Main content Skip to Navigation
Journal articles

Inferring transit time distributions from atmospheric tracer data: Assessment of the predictive capacities of Lumped Parameter Models on a 3D crystalline aquifer model

Abstract : While central in groundwater resources and contaminant fate, Transit Time Distributions (TTDs) are never directly accessible from field measurements but always deduced from a combination of tracer data and more or less involved models. We evaluate the predictive capabilities of approximate distributions (Lumped Parameter Models abbreviated as LPMs) instead of fully developed aquifer models. We develop a generic assessment methodology based on synthetic aquifer models to establish references for observable quantities as tracer concentrations and prediction targets as groundwater renewal times. Candidate LPMs are calibrated on the observable tracer concentrations and used to infer renewal time predictions, which are compared with the reference ones. This methodology is applied to the produced crystalline aquifer of Plœmeur (Brittany, France) where flows leak through a micaschists aquitard to reach a sloping aquifer where they radially converge to the producing well, issuing broad rather than multi-modal TTDs. One, two and three parameters LPMs were calibrated to a corresponding number of simulated reference anthropogenic tracer concentrations (CFC- 11, 85Kr and SF6). Extensive statistical analysis over the aquifer shows that a good fit of the anthropogenic tracer concentrations is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition to reach acceptable predictive capability. Prediction accuracy is however strongly conditioned by the use of a priori relevant LPMs. Only adequate LPM shapes yield unbiased estimations. In the case of Plœmeur, relevant LPMs should have two parameters to capture the mean and the standard deviation of the residence times and cover the first few decades [0;50 years]. Inverse Gaussian and shifted exponential performed equally well for the wide variety of the reference TTDs from strongly peaked in recharge zones where flows are diverging to broadly distributed in more converging zones. When using two sufficiently different atmospheric tracers like CFC-11 and 85Kr, groundwater renewal time predictions are accurate at 1 to 5 years for estimating mean transit times of some decades (10-50 years). 1-parameter LPMs calibrated on a single atmospheric tracer lead to substantially larger errors of the order of 10 years, while 3-parameter LPMs calibrated with a third atmospheric tracers (SF6) do not improve the prediction capabilities. Based on a specific site, this study highlights the high predictive capacities of two atmospheric tracers on the same time range with sufficiently different atmospheric concentration chronicles.
Document type :
Journal articles
Complete list of metadatas
Contributor : Isabelle Dubigeon <>
Submitted on : Thursday, April 9, 2015 - 4:51:15 PM
Last modification on : Sunday, June 28, 2020 - 5:06:04 PM
Long-term archiving on: : Tuesday, April 18, 2017 - 3:34:26 PM


Files produced by the author(s)



Jean Marçais, Jean-Raynald de Dreuzy, Timothy Ginn, Pauline Rousseau Gueutin, Sarah Leray. Inferring transit time distributions from atmospheric tracer data: Assessment of the predictive capacities of Lumped Parameter Models on a 3D crystalline aquifer model. Journal of Environmental Hydrology, International Association for Environmental Hydrology, 2015, 525, pp.619-631. ⟨10.1016/j.jhydrol.2015.03.055⟩. ⟨insu-01140661⟩