Applied groundwater flow and transport modelling

Groundwater management at regional scale for water supply policies assessment and at local scale for environmental remediation of contaminated sites

Brochure (not available) Registration module (not available)


The course aims to introduce to groundwater modelling, in the framework of water supply and environmental protection and remediation projects.

Vomano valley - Salt water intrusion in coastal areas due to groundwater overexploitation [Author: Ezio Crestaz]Vomano valley - 3D Discretization Mesh in Feflow FM3 [Author: Ezio Crestaz]

The course covers fundamental of flow and transport groundwater modelling, including density-dependent behaviour so relevant to coastal areas where, particularly in Italy, most relevant urban and industrial settings are concentrated.

Based on theroretical flow modelling foundations (Darcy and continuità equations), density-dependent numerical formulation and contaminant transport processes (advection, decay and adsorption) are investigated, focusing on both analytical and numerical solutions with a specific focus on finite difference and finite elements methods. The course focuses on main steps of groundwater modelling development protocol, in the attempt to highlight major bottlenecks and critical issues.

Initial conceptual model validation and simulation of future scenarios both play a major role in groundwater modelling, demanding for high quality in documenting calibration process and final output. Surfing through this difficult path and balancing technical, ethical and communication issues, the guidelines of a best-practice application protocol are sketched. Focusing on data quality, documentation (metadata) and processing (lineage), fundamentals of applied design, development and management of groundwater GIS software platforms coupled with modelling software is reviewed. Geodatabases devoted to surface water and groundwater data management, namely the Hydro Data Model for ArcGIS 8/9™ after CRWR (Consortium for Research in Water Resources, Austin, Texas), and the key role of geological, structural and hydrogeological interpretation are also considered.

Groundwater modelling learning path is generally a steep one, demanding for a strong multisciplinar approach involving such different application fields as geology, hydrogeology, spatial statistics, numerical analysis, software engineering and development. Despite all these issues, the course is still introductory, not demanding for previous in-depth experience but trying to put light on relevant bottlenecks and more common errors affecting output quality of modelling tasks.

References in text

Cowen D.J., 1988. GIS versus CAD DBMS: what are the differences?. Photogrammetric Engineering and Remote Sensing, 54, pp. 1551-1554

EU, 2003. Water policy in the European Union, available from

Course program

Water resources historically played a key role worldwide. Large regions (i.e. Sahel, African horn and central-western Asia) have been traditionally affected by water supply shortages (UNEP, 1997) due to low precipitation and high evapotranspiration rates, demanding for increasing exploitation of fossile deep aquifers. The same quantity problems still affect most other regions worldwide, for example during summer time in. many touristic sites in Italy due to increased water demand.. Quality issues turn to be of major concern too, including extensive salinization phenomena along coastal areas, due to overexploitation policies. All the problems above and their impact on transboundary policies assessment and management are also well known at European level, increasingly demanding for actions contrasting desertification phenomena related to climate and land use modifications (EU, 2003).

Particularlly relevant to human use, quality problems emerge in both developed and developing countries, ranging from overuse of pesticides in agriculture, to industrial activities and lack of water sanitation (Tolba, 1992).

Despite surface waters can locally play a major role as a source of water supply, face to both technical and cost-benefits considerations, groundwaters are still an extremely valuable protected resource and deeper aquifers are often exploited to address both quantity and quality degradation issues. Relevant examples include Nubian Sandstones in sahelian region or Po plain multiaquifers system in north Italy.

Face to above issues, academic and applied hydrogeological and modelling research are well established disciplines, with wide relevance in environmental-oriented scientific journals and conferences. In this framework, GIScience also turns to play a major role, with emerging disciplines as Hydroinformatics, GwGISs (Ground water Geographical Information Systems) development and groundwater flow and transport modelling, disciplines being central to current course.

GwGIS definition can be properly focused after Cowen (1988) “a decision support system integrating georeferenced spatial data in a problem-solving environment ”, by including “ addressing groundwater management issues and policies”. GwGIS provides a technological and conceptual framework for both hydrological and hydrogeological data analysis, simulation numerical models development and, generally speaking, SDSSs development.

Today groundwater modelling is central to water management and protection policies assessment, particularly in the legislative framework of the 471/99 Law, in Italy, and the recent EU Water Directive. Validation of conceptual models and quantitative simulation of groundwater systems behaviour both contribute to proper design of environmental protection measures in contaminated sites and prove useful in water supply policies design on the medium-long time horizon. Fundamental to industry and increasingly requested by environmental protection authorities, groundwater modelling has turned to be a fundamental step in most environmental consulting.

Analysis of groundwater modelling development protocol and hands-on sessions, focusing on GMS (MODFLOW, MODPATH and MT3D finite difference codes) and on the finite elements 3D and density-dependent FEFLOW modelling environment, will contribute to highlight major relevant problems and risks related to calibration and simulation processes.

The course is part of a wider learning project focused on GIScience and on development of GISs (Geographical Information Systems), relevant to most application areas, as urban planning and environmental protection, just to recall two of them. And the course is effectively focused on EISs (Environmental Information Systems) development and specific fields of spatial analysis and modelling applied to groundwaters.
Due to its main focus on applications and modelling protocol, Anderson and Woessner (1992), “Applied Groundwater Modeling: Simulation of Flow and Advective Transport”, has been adopted as the reference textbook for the course.
The course will be based on a theoretical and hands-on path, focusing on fundamental steps towards satisfactory model implementation. Following a review of FEFLOW fundamentals, a numerical flow and transport 2D/3D simulation environment in saturated, unsaturated, fractured and density-dependent conditions, application details will be explicitly addressed along practical sessions. Role of calibration choices, including extension of modelling area and proper selection of boundary and internatl conditions, will be reviewed, and issues relevant to coupling with external 3D and time-dependent geodatabase and GIS software platforms will be addressed in the framework of complex modelling approaches.

Introduction to numerical modelling and codes

This introduction focuses on basic theory, architecture of relevant numerical codes and state-of-the-art guidelines in applied groundwater modelling. Despite a deep knowledge of numerical formulation is not necessarily required in simpler applications, it definitely contributes to a correct approach to modelling tasks and turns to be fundamental in complex applications.
Sangro valley: geological map and hydrogeological interpretation [Author: Ezio Crestaz]Se la pratica modellistica, inclusa la verifica ed il controllo dei risultati spesso prerogativa degli enti di controllo o dell'industria nel suo rapporto con società terze, non richiede necessariamente una conoscenza approfondita della formulazione matematica e numerica, ignorare o sottostimare questo aspetto generalmente equivalente a sottoscrivere una cambiale in bianco verso il fallimento.

Conceptual model

Building a conceptual model of a hydrogeological system is a complex task. Geometry, hydrogeological and hydrological properties, estimation of their spatial distribution face to data quality and data density issues all play a relevant role in proper assessment of modelling scope and objectives.

Development and life of a numerical model: calibration, simulation and postauditing

Development and life of a numerical model has both technical and communication implications. Density-dependent numerical analysis to assess groundwater data management policies in a coastal area [Author: Ezio Crestaz] While calibration is undoubtedly a fundamental step in modelling development, next steps often reveal the complexity of underground hidrology leading to consider more complex or totally new objectives, face to both technical and legal requirements. All the above steps, including calibration, simulation, model output verification ( postaudits ) and outcomes communication, are the major focus of current course.

Data output Management and visualization in advanced groundwater modelling applications

Efficient hydrological and hydrogeological data management and the availability of fully integrated modelling environments, following the principles of ESDA - E xploration S patial D ata A nalysis), and advanced 3D/time dependent visualisation play a key-role in supporting groundwater modelling activities. Available tools contribute to cut development times, while enhancing the overall efficiency of modelling process, otherwise not realistically feasible (i.e. complex 3D and fractured environments). Definitely they support a spatio-temporal integrated approach along all steps of groundwater modelling protocol.


Salinity isosurfaces and concentration distribution over [Author: Ezio Crestaz] All major steps in groundwater modelling development will be explicitly addressed in the hands-on session, focusing on the real case of the Vomano valley (north Abruzzo, Italy), addressing groundwater management and explotation policies face to risks of overexploitation and salt water intrusion phenomena, as well as environmental protection and remediation issues.

Implementation of modern GDI s ( G eographical D ata I nfrastructures) guarantees referential data integrity, efficient data querying and full access to data documentation (metadata), turning to play a major key role in supporting a consistent approach to groundwater data modelling tasks. New ArcGIS 8/9 geodatabase models for surface water and groundwater data management (Maidment, 2002; Strassberg & Maidment, 2004; CRWR - Centre for Research in Water Resources) and the availability of mature GIS software platforms strongly contribute to effective modelling (conceptual models definition, spatial statistics analysis and calibration, mapping and 3D visualization).
Geodatabase and GIS are relevant to implementation of integrated modelling and management systems, starting from elementary loose coupling strategies, based on simple file transfer protocols, up to fully integrated (tight coupling) ones. 3D and time-dependent (transient state) conditions highly benefit from such a structured approach, making modelling tasks easier to control and more consistent with scope and objectives.

Hands-on sessions will cover preliminary analysis of conceptual models, including stratigraphic and hydrogeological units analysis, hydrological and hydrogeological properties distribution, internal and boundary conditions (heads, flows and concentrations). Sensitivity analysis addressing uncertainty issues and supporting further steps of hydrogeological process will be investigated in detail, further focusing on true scope and objectives face to complex projects.
The real case of the Vomano valley (Abruzzo), focused on optimization of pumping regimes at main well fields and related risks to induce salinization phenomena, will be reviewed from both a MODFLOW and a FEFLOW point of view, addressing future scenarios in medium-long term simulation perspective. The balanced role of recharge by direct infiltration and leakage from surface water bodies, the relevance of a major paleo-river and all the hydrogeological features revealing from stratigraphies and indirect geophysical information (geoelectrics) will be explicitly investigated face to calibration process requirements.


Office Automation suite MsOffice™, RDBMS MsAccess™ e Feflow FM3T™ (WASY,

Who is it for?

Environmental and Earth sciences experts, ITC and GIS professionals, Water resources consulting companies and public authorities professionals working in the water resources sector.

It is required: a deep knowledge of PC/MsOffice™ environment, a basic knowledge of interpretation , management and analysis of hydrological and hydrogeological data. It is not required knowledge of design and development of relational databases, geotabases, GIS softwares, numeric modelling, even if a previous exeperience could be useful. The course book has a didactic and scientifica approach that allows a easier understanding of the topics covered.

Location & dates

The course will take place at the Environmental Education Centre Casa Archilei , located in Fano (PU) and easily accessible from major transport links. The course will have a duration of 40 hours, with 8 hours lessons on Saturday, following a calendar balancing the needs for didactic continuity and in-depth learning requirements. Calendar details are available on web site.


Registration forms are available at the Administration Office of Monte Porzio Cultura, they can be downloaded in PDF format or they can be requested via Email at .

Course fees are 1050 € + VAT (20%) in a unique payment before course starting. For payments prior to 1/3/2007, a reduced fee of 1000 € + VAT (20%) will be applied. Partecipants in previous GIScience courses promoted by the Association, students regularly enrolled in degree, post-degree and Phd courses at italian or foreign universities at the moment of registration, as well as education Institutions, public and private companies enrolling more than one person will benefit of a 10% discount. Fees must be payed by bank transfer to “Associazione Monte Porzio Cultura”, Account # 000020111416, “BANCA SUASA – Credito Cooperativo, Filiale di Castelvecchio”, Strada Cesanense, 137 – 61040 Castelvecchio (PU) - ABI 08839, CAB 68451, CIN J, with the clear statement “Participation in course Applied groundwater flow and transport modelling”. If 10% discount conditions are satisfied, they must be explicitly reported on the registration. Both registration form and photocopy of bank transfer must be sent by fax to 0721-862724 at the attention of Ing. D. Guanciarossa.


At the end of the course, participants attending at least 70% of the lessons will be awarded a Completion certificate.

Didactic material

The course book provided to each participant is: Anderson, M.P. and Woessner W.W., 1992. Applied Groundwater Modeling: Simulation of Flow and Advective Transport . Academic Press Inc., San Diego CA, USA.

For those interested in further documentation please refer the following reference bibliography:

For GMS e FEFLOW documentation, check the following websites:

For those interested in the geodatabase "Hydro Data Model" and"Groundwater Hydro Data Model":


For further information, please refer to Email address or refer to contact references at Contacts section of web site .

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Last update 11/09/2010