A three-dimensional variably-saturated subsurface modelling system for river basins
There are many circumstances where lateral flows in the upper soil layers above the regional groundwater table are important for hillslope and catchment hydrology, and in particular for the transport of contaminants. Perched water tables frequently occur in Quaternary drift sequences, reducing rates of recharge to the underlying aquifers and altering contaminant migration pathways; recent experimental and modelling studies have demonstrated the potential importance of lateral flows in the unsaturated zone, even in homogeneous soils; and lateral interflow at the hillslope scale, and its role in generating storm runoff, is the subject of intense current debate amongst hydrologists. A numerical model for simulating transient three-dimensional variably-saturated flow in complex aquifer systems (the Variably-Saturated Subsurface flow, or VSS, model), capable of representing these conditions, is presented in this thesis. The VSS model is based on the extended Richards equation for saturated as well as unsaturated conditions, and also includes capabilities for modelling surface-subsurface interactions, stream-aquifer interactions, prescribed head and flow boundary conditions, plant and well abstractions, and spring discharges. A simple but novel approach is taken to solving the three-dimensional non-linear Richards equation on a flexible-geometry finite-difference mesh, using Newton-Raphson iteration and an adaptive convergence algorithm. The VSS model is implemented as a module of the catchment flow and transport modelling system, SHETRAN. The reliability of the full SHETRAN modelling system is demonstrated using verification and validation tests, including comparisons against analytical solutions for simple cases, and simulations of storm runoff in a small Mediterranean catchment. Simulations of flow and contaminant transport in complex sequences of Quaternary drift deposits demonstrate the full capabilities of the modelling system under real-world conditions.