Do it Yourself Groundwater Modeling with the Analytic Element Method

Groundwater modeling often feels like you are being asked to bake a five-tier wedding cake in a toaster oven.  You are not sure you have all the ingredients available, you can only bake one layer at a time, but there is a lot of pressure to get the cake ready for the big day. For…

bake a wedding cake in a toaster oven

Groundwater modeling often feels like you are being asked to bake a five-tier wedding cake in a toaster oven.  You are not sure you have all the ingredients available, you can only bake one layer at a time, but there is a lot of pressure to get the cake ready for the big day. For scientists and engineers tackling design and assessment of groundwater problems it usually feels like the metaphorical cake is always missing ingredients, the oven is always too small, and another cake will inevitably be required. As such, the pressure to deliver useful and timely results can feel overwhelming.

In this article I hope to change your perspective on mathematical modeling by introducing the Analytic Element Method (AEM). AEM provides an approach that is not only efficient but also exceptionally adaptable to the highly uncertain nature of subsurface investigations and assessments. By employing a modular approach that utilizes mathematical functions to represent key features, AEM allows engineers and scientists to build, modify, and perform virtual experiments with models quickly and easily.

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The Challenges with Groundwater

Groundwater can be simultaneously viewed as a critical resource, an essential component of our ecosystems, a nuisance, and a dangerous hazard. Your perspective on this depends on whether you are trying to prevent a slope from failing or maintain baseflow to stream. Often however, you must consider multiple perspectives when you design for, and assess groundwater systems. This is not an easy task. It requires deep understanding of groundwater systems and some practical experience. This task also often requires some mathematical modeling to help bring the problem to life and provide a virtual laboratory for testing your ideas.

Creating virtual groundwater laboratories

Since you have read this far, I will assume that you have a strong grounding in groundwater science, and at least some real-world experiences. So, let us move onto the virtual laboratory of groundwater modelling. As a groundwater professional, you have two options for creating mathematical models for your project: 1) do it yourself, or 2) hire a modeler, either internally or externally. In some instances, Option 2 is the obvious choice simply because some projects call for complex modeling that requires some modeling-specific experience. However, in many instances, Option 1 is very feasible. Not only is Option 1 feasible but doing the model yourself also provides deeps insights into the problem that only doing it yourself and experimenting with the model can provide.  This holds true even if you are building a simpler model to verify the results of someone else’s model (i.e. Option 2). The benefits of doing your own models cannot be understated because, no matter which option you choose, it is your name on that groundwater assessment or design report.

DIY Groundwater Modeling

Despite the benefits to doing the model yourself, you might prefer to go with Option 2. If that is you, then it’s likely that you have been actively avoiding modeling.  You have been actively avoiding modeling because you are aware of only a few modeling options readily available, and you know that these options all have a steep learning curve. Of course, these options include the usual suspects of finite difference, finite element, and most recently finite volume. And you would be correct.  The usual suspects software is challenging to master. Furthermore, while those modeling tools can be powerful simulators in the right hands, they are slow and difficult to build, poor at adapting to new data, and somewhere between difficult and impossible to experiment with new concepts or designs. In short, these usual suspects are not the right tool for you. Fortunately, there is an easier way for you to get more involved in your projects and DIY your own models. This DIY route to creating your own virtual groundwater laboratory is through the analytic element method.

What is the Analytical Element Method?

The Analytic Element Method (AEM) offers an excellent alternative approach to groundwater modeling, as it is extremely efficient and easy to use for all groundwater professionals. Unlike traditional grid-based models, AEM uses mathematical functions to represent groundwater flow effects of specific features such as wells and aquifer boundaries. The influences of these individual functions are added together (‘superimposed’) to calculate the net effect in the groundwater system. As such, this method is highly visible and object oriented, which dramatically reduces setup time and simplifies the process, making it more intuitive and much faster to create models.

Defining the important features of the system with independent functions makes the model very modular. The modular nature of AEM makes it exceptionally user-friendly and easy to learn. Each element—whether it’s a contamination source, a geological barrier, or a water extraction point—can be added, adjusted, or removed independently of the other features. This flexibility means that updating models with new data does not require an overhaul of the entire model; instead, you can simply modify or insert new elements as needed. Such adaptability also makes AEM ideal for experimentation, allowing you to quickly test various scenarios and see the impacts of changes in real-time.

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Summing it up

Groundwater science is not easy.  It takes a lot of training and experience to understand the problem and a little mathematical modelling.  Although models represent only part of the assessment and design process, they really bring the problem to life by allowing us to experiment on the problem. Unfortunately, many conventional modeling methods are difficult to master, are slow to build and impractical for these virtual experiments. However, one mathematical method, AEM is perfectly suited to virtual experimenting. It not only simplifies the creation and updating of models but also democratizes the experimentation process, empowering scientists, and engineers to adapt quickly and innovate freely. So, when you find that your metaphorical cake is missing ingredients, or you find that you need bake a whole new cake, AEM can really help keep you on track.

Don’t let complexity hold you back. Join a growing community of professionals mastering groundwater modeling with ease. Your next project deserves the best tools—discover yours now and make sure your groundwater modeling is a piece of cake, not a recipe for stress.