Evaluation of the performance of a hydraulic barrier by the Null space Monte Carlo method

  • Giovanni Formentin | giovanni.formentin@tethys.srl Tethys S.r.l., Milano, Italy.
  • Jacopo Terrenghi Soil & Groundwater, HPC Italia Srl, Milano, Italy.
  • Mariangela Vitiello Tethys S.r.l., Milano, Italy.
  • Alberto Francioli Soil & Groundwater, HPC Italia Srl, Italy.


A gasoline leak caused the contamination of a shallow alluvial aquifer in an urbanized area in Northern Italy. A rapid intervention was conceived to stop the spreading of contamination: a hydraulic barrier has been placed downstream of the source to collect both the floating oil and the contaminated groundwater. A numerical model has been built to assess the performance of the existing barrier, and to design a new configuration of the hydraulic barrier aimed at stopping the hydrocarbon plume already dispersed downstream. A preliminary model was built and calibrated against groundwater levels measured in 41 monitoring wells. Hydraulic conductivities in pilot points, recharge zones and constant head BCs were calibrated. The non-uniqueness of the calibrated parameters led to identify 283 alternative parameter sets, all able to represent the observed heads within an absolute average error of 10 cm. These sets, generated with the Null space Monte Carlo method, served to build 283 models, used to simulate the dispersion of solved contamination through forward particle tracking. A further step was the censoring of all simulations resulting in particle paths at a distance closer than 5 meters from monitoring wells where contamination was never found since the spilled occurred. Analysis was performed of the particle paths generated with the 187 models that were retained. Overall, the barrier captures 89% of all particles. Moreover, in 74% of all realizations, at least a particle escapes, with a mean and median of 7 particles in each realization where it happens. Two main contamination paths are identified: while one is confirmed by the monitoring wells already present, another one would require the placement of new wells to assess the actual presence of contamination. Thus, the validity of the stochastic simulation would be assessed together with the need to improve the performance of the hydraulic barrier.



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MODFLOW, MODPATH, PEST, Null Space Monte Carlo, hydraulic barrier
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How to Cite
Formentin, G., Terrenghi, J., Vitiello, M., & Francioli, A. (2019). Evaluation of the performance of a hydraulic barrier by the Null space Monte Carlo method. Acque Sotterranee - Italian Journal of Groundwater, 8(4). https://doi.org/10.7343/as-2019-420