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2D large-scale Ground Penetrating Radar tomography

in shallow unconfined aquifers

July 19, 2018

Adam Szymański1

Combining a new inverse scheme with the two-dimensional large-scale ground penetrating radar tomogra-
phy (2DLSGPRT), we suggest a method which can be applied for reconstructing an unknown aquifer’s base
location, using the groundwater free-surface data alone. The inverse procedure is based on the smoothing
and approximation of unknown real-valued functions in lN and H1 (0, L) Hilbert spaces, respectively. To test
the numerical consistency of the inverse scheme, one uses the synthetic data generated by 3D finite element
model (3DFEM). The results of the inverse procedure suggest that for moderate large-scale gradients, the
GPR measurements of a free-surface are accurate enough to define the geometry of a shallow unconfined
Ground Penetrating Radar measurements, inverse problem, unconfined aquifer, Dupuit-Forchheimer assump-
tion, Nonstandard Extended Boussinesq Approach, Standard Extended Boussinesq Approach
Dedicated to Professors S.R. Massel (?1939 - †2018) and W. Chybicki (?1953 - †2018)

1 Introduction

The above-mentioned 2DLSGPRT consists of a series of measurements to determine depth to free-surface from
the land surface (cf., Brown (2008)). However, in practice, one can only measure an interval where there is
the free-surface with respect to the land surface. Indeed, in soils, a transitional zone, known as the capillary
fringe, occurs above the free-surface. Within the capillary fringe, the water content increases with increasing
depth from partially saturated in the upper part to saturated in the lower part. Thus, GPR does not directly
measure the free-surface depth, but responds to saturated conditions within the capillary fringe. Hence, it seems
to be reasonable to use the GPR measurements for reconstructing the base location of shallow homogeneous
unconfined aquifers in coarse-textured soils, where the capillary fringe is narrow, and the difference in dielectric
properties between the unsaturated and saturated zones is contrasting. These characteristics of free-surfaces in
coarse-textured soils produce distinguishable reflections on GPR records.
In fact, Collins and Doolittle (1987) reported that GPR has been successfully used to determine depth to
water from the land surface in small areas with homogeneous geology. Bentley and Trenholm (2002) found
that GPR could estimate the depths to shallow free-surfaces with an accuracy of about 0.2 [m]. According to
GPR-field measurements reported by Johnson (1992), the average error of about 0.55 [m] between the actual
and GPR-derived values of depth to water below land surface has been observed.
Using GPR measurements of the groundwater free-surface as an input we construct the inverse problem for
describing its unknown base location. Similar problem has already been considered by Darnet et al. (2003).
They estimated the geometry of an unconfined aquifer from the inversion of surface Streaming Potential anoma-
lies, assuming that the water flow occurs in a homogeneous unconfined aquifer in steady-state conditions limited
at the bottom by impermeable aquifer’s base. Additionally, it has been assumed that the bottom of the aquifer
is horizontal and hence so is the flow (the Dupuit-Forchheimer (DF) assumption). Jardani et al. (2009) used
1 Environmental Protection Program, Poland (adi Ownership: Environmental Protection Program

the similar technique. Furthermore, Zhang (2014) proposed a new inverse method to simultaneously estimate
heterogeneous hydraulic conductivities and unknown boundary conditions for steady-state flow in an uncon-
fined aquifer. She used again the DF assumption of negligible vertical flow. The reconstruction of groundwater
parameters from head data in an unconfined aquifer based on the Boussinesq equation is also described by
Knowles and Yan (2007).
Unfortunately, as was already pointed out by Baiocchi and Capelo (1984) the DF assumption is formally
inconsistent. Indeed, this assumption implicitly ignores the real flow process during the lowering the free-surface
and is used for simplifying the mathematical treatment of the problem only. Thus, all applications based on it
should not necessarily be considered as guidelines. Therefore, our aim here is to abandon such a nonphysical
assumption. Generally speaking, the proposed model is suitable for predicting the geometrical location of the
free-surface and both Darcy velocity components at it. Our formulation allows a closed-form solution of the
problem and an exhaustive discussion of its existence.
Although GPR records provide continuous free-surface profiles, we use the N-dimensional lN Hilbert space
to describe the observed field data, and by minimizing the metric in this space, we calculate the first derivative
of the free-surface for which only discrete noise-contaminated data values are given. Next, having defined the
smooth approximations for the groundwater free-surface h(x) and dh(x) dx , biased by the measurement errors, and
by minimizing the metric in the Hilbert space H1 (0, L) we reconstruct the geometry of an unconfined aquifer.
The present paper is organized as follows: in section 2 we discuss some basic issues related to the direct
problem proposed, section 3 shows the suggested inverse technique, section 4 presents a numerical example for
defining the geometry of an unconfined aquifer. Finally, in section 5 conclusions are drawn.

2 Direct problem

Figure 1: Schematic illustration of the model geometry

In this work we consider the steady-state flow in a homogeneous, isotropic, unconfined aquifer represented
by 2D vertical slab of length L, bounded by two-constant-head boundary conditions HS and HE (see Fig.1).
Thus, the direct problem is defined as follows;

dh(x) 2 dh(x)
vx (x, z)( ) +k + vx (x, z) = 0, f or z = h(x) (1)
dx dx

h(0) = HS , (2)

h(L) = HE , (3)

Vc (0, HS )
α= , (4)
Vc (L, HE )
where: x ∈ [0, L], α ∈ [0, 1], z = h(x), Vc (x, z) = [vx (x, z)]2 + [vz (x, z)]2 .
Further, we define the horizontal vx (x, z) and vertical vz (x, z) Darcy velocities as follows,

1 kb
vx (x, h(x)) = − √ (5)
2 a + bx
1 vx (x, h(x)) 2
vz (x, h(x)) = k[−1 + 1 − 4( ) ], (6)
2 k
where: a > 0, b < 0 are unknown real constants, and α, k, L, HS , HE > 0 are known real constants.
Formally, the system (1-6) can be considered as a nonstandard two-point boundary value problem for
the nonlinear first order differential equation in the H1 (0, L) space. Physically, the system (1-6) presents an
extension to the Standard Boussinesq Approach (SBA) considered by Darnet et al. (2003) and Zhang (2014),
and describes the groundwater flow at the free-surface of an unconfined aquifer. In terms of (1-6), the SBA
based on the DF assumption is treated as an approximation for the large-scale gradient m = (HE − L
HS )

approaching zero as the limit. The detailed description of SBA is presented by Bear (1979). Incidentally, the
linearized version of (1-6) reduces to SBA considered by Zhang (2014) (see Tab.1, the first example).
Generally speaking, the SBA approximation combines Darcy’s law with the shallow-water approximation to
describe the groundwater flow in an unconfined aquifer. However, it is not always clear when SBA will faithfully
reproduce the physical phenomena that one attempts to model. Thus, in this work we follow the line presented
by Baiocchi and Capelo (1984) and develop such an extension of SBA that allows the large-scale gradient to
be considered as a small but finite quantity. Formally, it means that the vertical Darcy velocity component
vz (x, h(x)) does always exist in contrary to SBA, where vz (x, h(x)) ≡ 0 .
Relation (1) describes the exact nonlinear differential equation governing the horizontal Darcy
velocity component vx (x, h(x)) ∈ C 1 (0, L) of the groundwater flow at the free-surface, where the
function vx (x, h(x)) is defined by (5), and the unknown function h(x) ≡ h(x, α) represents the geometrical
location of the free-surface, i.e., the interface between unsaturated and saturated soils where the hydraulic head
function equals the free-surface height. The methodology used to obtain (1) is the same as that reported by
Baiocchi and Capelo (1984) and will not be repeated here. Incidentally, a similar result has been obtained by
van Duijn and Schotting (2017) for the interface between fresh and salt groundwater. The coefficient k denotes
the spatially constant saturated hydraulic conductivity. The existence of the impermeable horizontal bottom
of an aquifer, which is set as the hydraulic head datum (z = 0), is described by the dimensionless coefficient
α. We call it the kinematic deepness of an aquifer where α → 0 describes a kinematically shallow aquifer and
α → 1 a kinematically deep one.

2.1 Solution of the problem (1-6)

The function h(x) ∈ H1 (0, L) can be considered as an element of a Hilbert space endowed with the following
norm, s
dh(x) 2
khk H1 (0,L) = [h2 (x) + ( ) ]dx . (7)
0 dx
Using the Fundamental Theorem of Calculus the solution of (1) takes the form,
Z x
V≡ K(vx (ξ, h(ξ))dξ = h0 (x), (8)
where V is the nonlinear Volterra integral operator with the kernel defined as follows,
  r !
1 k vx (ξ, h(ξ)) 2
K(vx (ξ, h(ξ)) = −1 + 1 − 4( ) (9)
2 vx (ξ, h(ξ)) k

and h0 (x) = h(x) − C1 . C1 is an integration constant. By means of the boundary condition (2) we obtain
C1 = HS . We call this case the Nonstandard Extended Boussinesq Approach (NEBA). However, neglecting the
condition (4) and putting C1 = 0, we obtain the second case, called the Standard Extended Boussinesq Approach
(SEBA). Next, considering NEBA and assuming that vx ∈ D(V) ⊂ H1 (0, L) and h0 ∈ R(V) ⊂ H1 (0, L) where
the sets D(V) and R(V) denote the domain and the range of the operator V, respectively, we present the solution
of integral equation (8) in a closed-form. In fact, inserting (5) into (8) we obtain,
2 −2 p √ p p
h(x) = b [ (a + bx )3 − a3 − (a − b2 + bx )3 + (a − b2 )3 ] + HS . (10)
Incidentally, from (5) follows that vx (x, h(x)) is a strictly increasing function. Furthermore, we can show that
the graph of the free-surface elevation (10) is convex upwards. From (8) follows that h(x) is an absolutely
continuous function that has a first derivative for all x ∈ [0, L], and from (1) and (6) that h(x) belongs to the
class of strictly decreasing functions. Further, the kernel (9) is defined if vx (x, h(x)) ≤ 0.5k. Next, using (10)
and (3) we obtain the first equation needed for determining the unknown coefficients a and b. The second one
is obtained by means of (4). Finally, we have
p √ p p 3
(c + f )3 − c3 − (c + f − f 2 )3 + (c − f 2 )3 − mf 2 = 0, (11)
s r
f2 f2
α2 [1 − 1 − ]−1+ 1− = 0, (12)
c+f c
a b
c= , f= . (13)
L2 L
From the system of equations (11,12) follows that the parameters of the NEBA direct problem are m and
α. Thus, we have that a(m, α), b(m, α) and the information of the geometry of an unconfined aquifer is only
indirectly included in NEBA. Hence, in terms of this model the hypothetical aquifer’s base can be considered
as an element of the base location set Ω = (0, r) where 0 < r < HE .
Further, we can simplify the system (11,12) in the following way. From the relation (12) follows that,
C −1+M
D= (14)
where p
f f2 α2 − 1 + (1 − M ) 2
D= , M= , C=( ) . (15)
c c α2
Next, from the relation (11) we have,
3 2 2
m D M
1= p p2 p (16)
( (1 + D) − 1 − (1 + D − M )3 + (1 − M )3 )2

0 < M < (1 − H), H = (1 − α2 )2 . (17)
Having M as a solution of the equation (16) we obtain the equivalent form of the system (11,12) as follows,

f = D c, f 2 = M c. (18)

The closed-form solution of (16) can be obtained for small values of m.

Let us now define the sets D(V) and R(V) in such a way that the solution of (8) does exist. It is easy to observe
that the solution of SBA formally exists for an arbitrary value of the large-scale gradient. In fact, this solution
H 2 −H 2
can be obtained in a closed-form, namely; a = HS2 and b = E L S . In this case (5) is only singular if one
assumes HE = 0.
In the case of NEBA, however, there exists an admissible set Π for the large-scale gradient that depends on
the kinematic deepness of an aquifer. It means that if a large-scale gradient considered for predicting the flow
in an aquifer does not belong to the above-mentioned set, the solution of NEBA does not exist. The admissible
set Π, which follows from the system (11,12), is defined by,

Π = {(m, α), 0 ≤ α ≤ 1, |m| ≤ |mg (α)|}, (19)

2 (1 − H)3/2 − 1 + H 3/2
mg (α) = . (20)
3 H(1 − H)1/2
The closed-form solution of (16) implies that for m ∈ Π and α ∈ (αg , 1), where αg is the solution of (20) for
mg (α) = m, the unique solution of (8) does exist. In other words (16) implies that the operator V is injective.
In this case (8) is conditionally well-posed in Tikhonov’s sense.

3 Inverse problem

3.1 Definition of the measurement error

Let us consider the N-dimensional lN Hilbert space equipped with the norm
khfs klN
2 =
t h2fs (xi ) (21)

for describing the observed field data, where N is the number of measurement points and the real-valued function
hfs (xi ) shows the free-surface elevation simulated by 3DFEM with respect to the predefined horizontal level
z ∈ Ω , since at this moment we do not know a proper location of the aquifer base (z = 0). However, it is
clear that measured data always contain certain errors, i.e., the initial information always differs from the true
one. Thus, with the function hfs (xi ) we associate the following real-valued functions hub lb
fs (xi ) and hfs (xi ) which
describe the upper and lower bounds of the measurement accuracy with respect to the free-surface hfs (xi ),
respectively. Remembering that the GPR technique only supplies the interval where there is the free-surface
elevation h(x), we define the measurement error by the following relation,
δ(xi ) = (hub lb
fs (xi ) − hfs (xi )) ≥ 0. (22)
Let us now consider the case where the error function δ(xi ) is treated as a random one. This implies that
ub lb
hub lb
fs (xi ) = hfs (xi ) + rand (xi ) and hfs (xi ) = hfs (xi ) − rand (xi ). The function rand supplies uniformly
distributed random numbers, which lie within a specified range β = (0, r1 ), and simulates the measurement

3.2 Smoothing of the measured data

The above-introduced functions hub lb
fs (xi ) and hfs (xi ) contain noise, originating from errors in the acquisition
process of real-world phenomena, i.e, 2DLSGPRT. However, for the inverse procedure introduced we need the
C 1 (0, L) input functions. Hence, we propose the following C 1 -smoothing procedures based on the NEBA direct
min khub (xi , αub ) − hub
fs (xi )klN
2 (23)
αub ∈(αub
g , 1)

with constraints HS = hub ub

fs (0), HE = hfs (L), and

min khlb (xi , αlb ) − hlb

fs (xi )klN
2 (24)
αlb ∈(αlb
g , 1)

with constraints HS = hlb lb

fs (0), HE = hfs (L). Notice that the metrics defined by (23) and (24) are the convex
functions, thus the values αub and αlb can be found by a numerical method. The smoothing technique suggested
above supplies two C 1 -approximations, namely : hub (x), vxub (x, hub (x)), vzub (x, hub (x)) and hlb (x), vxlb (x, hlb (x)),
vzlb (x, hlb (x)) for the upper and lower bounds discrete hub lb
fs (xi ) and hfs (xi ) functions, respectively.

3.3 Approximation of the unknown free-surface

Again, using the NEBA direct model we can approximate the unknown function h(x) by means of known
C 1 -functions hub (x) and hlb (x) in the following way,
min k (h(x, α) − hn )kH1 (0,L) (25)
α∈(αub , αlb ) 2 n=1

hub (0)+hlb (0) hub (L)+hlb (L)
where h1 = hub (x, αub ), h2 = hlb (x, αlb ). The constraints for (25) are; HS = 2 , HE = 2 .
Notice also that at the free-surface the following relations are fulfilled,

dh(x) vz (x, h(x)) dh ub (x) v ub (x, hub (x))

= , = zub , (26)
dx vx (x, h(x)) dx vx (x, hub (x))

dh lb (x) v lb (x, hlb (x))

= zlb . (27)
dx vx (x, hlb (x))
The distance function in (25) is convex, so that we can find α by means of a numerical procedure. Hence, using
the NEBA direct problem we have localized the free-surface h(x) and defined the horizontal and vertical Darcy
velocities at it with respect to the predefined horizontal level z ∈ Ω which is, of course, not a base of an aquifer.
It is induced by the condition (4) which physically implies that the geometry of an aquifer does change due to
the movement of the free-surface only.

3.4 Inverse procedure

Having defined the free-surface, we can now find the unknown base of an unconfined aquifer (z = 0). To do
this, we use the SEBA direct problem. Indeed, in this case the solution of (1) can be written in the following
2 p p
hinv (x) = b−2 [ (a + bx )3 − (a − b2 + bx )3 ]. (28)
Further, from (28) one obtains,
2 √ p
HSinv = b−2 [ a3 − (a − b2 )3 ] (29)
2 p p
HE = b−2 [ (a + bL)3 − (a − b2 + bL)3 ] (30)
where the parameters for the SEBA direct model are given by (26), (27) and the coefficient α is defined by
minimizing the distance (25). Hence, the NEBA direct model is only used for defining the unknown free-surface
with respect to the arbitrary level z ∈ Ω and the SEBA direct model calculates the geometrical location of
the aquifer’s base z = 0, using the free-surface elevation previously defined as an input. Additionally, for
the infinitely deep aquifer the solution of SEBA can be written in a closed-form; hinv (x) = mx + HS , and
−km inv
vx (x, h(x)) = 1+m 2 . Thus, for HS → ∞ kh (x)k H1 (0,L) → ∞.

4 Numerical experiment

To illustrate the use of the above-proposed inverse problem, we assumed that β = (0, 0.275). By means of
3DFEM the function hfs (xi ) has been generated to obtain five random realizations for hub lb
fs (xi ) and hfs (xi )
where E[δ1 (xi ), δ2 (xi ), ..., δ5 (xi )] = [0.265, 0, 297, 0.223, 0.267, 0.251[m]] and i = [1, 2, ..., 20]. The operator E
denotes the mean value of a sample. Incidentally, 3DFEM solves the nonlinear elliptic boundary value problem
in the bounded domain Γ where the part of ∂Γ, called the free-surface, is unknown. As usually, at the free-
surface two boundary conditions were considered. Further, we assumed that z = 10[m]. From 3DFEM follows
that HSF EM = 26.956[m], HE F EM
= 13.246[m] and LF EM = 306.45[m] with respect to the aquifer base z = 0.
It means that m = -0.0447. Additionally, we assumed that kxx = kyy = kzz = k F EM = 1[m/d]. Next,
using the inverse procedure suggested above and calculating the mean values we obtained the following results;
HSinv = 27.345[m], HE inv
= 13.605[m], and minv = −0.0448. Figure 2 shows the free-surface elevations measured
from the base of the aquifer. Figures 3 and 4 present the horizontal and vertical Darcy velocity components at
the free-surface elevations shown in Figure 2, respectively. Let us now define the error of the inverse procedure
with respect to the unknown geometry in the following way,

khub lb
inv (x) − hinv (x)k H1 (0,L)
σ= inv k 1
. (31)
khinv (x) − HE H (0,L)

For the detailed description of (31) see the caption of Figure 2. In our case σ = 0.132. Of course, for the
error-free data one obtains the inverse results as defined by 3DFEM.

Figure 2: Free-surface elevations obtained by the use of 3DFEM and the inverse procedure, where; hFEM (x)
describes the free-surface elevation calculated by 3DFEM, hub inv (x) is the upper bound free-surface simulated by
the inverse procedure, hlb
inv ((x) is the lower bound free-surface simulated by the inverse procedure and hinv (x)
presents the free-surface obtained by the inverse procedure (aquifer’s base z = 0).

Figure 3: Horizontal Darcy velocities at the free-surfaces (see the caption of Fig.2 for detailed description)

Figure 4: Vertical Darcy velocities at the free-surfaces (see the caption of Fig.2 for detailed description)

5 Summary and conclusions

Combining our inverse scheme with the GPR technique we suggest a method which can be used for reconstructing
the geometry of an unconfined aquifer. To test the numerical consistency of the proposed inverses scheme, we
used the synthetic data generated by 3D finite element model where the free-surface boundary conditions have
been implemented. It should be noted that a similar technique has been used in this context by Cardiff and
Barrash (2011). They used the 3D numerical model based on the finite difference method where numerical cells
of the model are allowed to drain and water table movement is thus tracked.
The chosen here numerical example is complex enough so that it provides adequate testing of procedures
proposed above. To localize the unknown free-surface elevation, we used the concept of lower and upper
bounds functions. It follows from the physical characteristics of the GPR technique. Essentially, 2DLSGPRT is
composed of two direct nonlinear boundary value problems NEBA and SEBA. We apply NEBA for recognition
of the unknown free-surface with respect to the predefined base level. Next, SEBA is used for defining the
impermeable base of an unconfined aquifer. The solutions of both boundary value problems are obtained in
a closed-form. This enables the nonlinear Volterra integral equation of the first kind to be treated as the
conditionally well-posed problem in Tikhonov’s sense. As far as the author is aware, the NEBA and SEBA
techniques have not been presented before in the groundwater literature. Additionally, the models proposed
above show that the horizontal Darcy velocity component is bounded at the ground water table and should be
less or equal to 0.5k.
The procedures mentioned above are implemented using a computer algebra system Maxima. From the
numerical calculations follows that the geometry of an unconfined aquifer is very sensitive to inaccuracy of free-
surface measurements and inverse results highly depend on the value of the large-scale gradient. For example,
from the inverse procedure follows that for moderate large-scale gradients (m ≈ −0.045) the GPR measurements
are accurate enough to define the geometry of an unconfined shallow aquifer. In fact, for m = −0.0448 the error
of the inverse procedure with respect to the aquifer’s geometry is equal to 13.2[%]. Unfortunately, for small
values of the large-scale gradient (m ≈ −0.006) where the free-surface is described by slowly varying functions,
the GPR measurement accuracy does not allow the proper location of the aquifer’s base. Indeed, in this case the
small errors in the measurement data lead to relatively large errors in the geometry of an unconfined aquifer.
Although we consider here the shallow unconfined aquifers, i.e., L >> HS the parameter α shows different
regimes of the groundwater motion. In fact, for L >> HS and |m| → 0 a geometrically shallow aquifer should
be considered as a kinematically deep one. This is the reason that one needs the different accuracy for the
free-surface measurements.

6 References

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7 In memoriam
This paper is dedicated to the memory of professor Stan Massel, who at the time of his passing was still
working in the field of ocean wave dynamics and to the pure mathematician professor Wlodek Chybicki, who
was interested in applications. The numerous discussions with Stan and Wlodek inspired me and are always in
my mind. I want to thank God Almighty, as it is His grace which has guided me to scientific cooperation with
Stan and Wlodek.