Approximating groundwater age distributions using simple streamtube models and multiple tracers

Nicholas B. Engdahl, Reed M. Maxwell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


We use a streamtube based decomposition and a recently developed, simple relationship between tracer concentrations and ages to estimate groundwater age distributions. The decomposition assumes that an age distribution can be approximated using a superposition of linearly independent streamtubes. Transport in each streamtube is modeled with inverse Gaussian functions, the parameters of which are inferred from radiometric tracer concentrations. Three simple sampling methods are considered for weakly and moderately heterogeneous aquifers and the method gives reasonable approximations in both systems. The method is sensitive to errors in the measured concentrations but some of these errors are easily identifiable and a range of plausible age distributions can still be found. The method was then tested in a highly heterogeneous system and reasonable estimates of the age distribution were also obtained. The simplicity of this method and its insensitivity to the heterogeneity structure suggest that this approach may be an effective tool for obtaining estimates of age distributions in natural systems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)19-31
Number of pages13
JournalAdvances in Water Resources
StatePublished - Apr 2014
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Water Science and Technology


  • Age distributions
  • Age tracers
  • Flow and transport
  • Groundwater age


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