Null-space Monte Carlo Particle Tracking to Assess Groundwater PCE (Tetrachloroethene) Diffuse Pollution in North-Eastern Milan Functional Urban Area

Sci Total Environ. 2018 Apr 15;621:326-339. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2017.11.253. Epub 2017 Dec 1.


The Lombardy Region in Italy is one of the most urbanized and industrialized areas in Europe. The presence of countless sources of groundwater pollution is therefore a matter of environmental concern. The sources of groundwater contamination can be classified into two different categories: 1) Point Sources (PS), which correspond to areas releasing plumes of high concentrations (i.e. hot-spots) and 2) Multiple-Point Sources (MPS) consisting in a series of unidentifiable small sources clustered within large areas, generating an anthropogenic diffuse contamination. The latter category frequently predominates in European Functional Urban Areas (FUA) and cannot be managed through standard remediation techniques, mainly because detecting the many different source areas releasing small contaminant mass in groundwater is unfeasible. A specific legislative action has been recently enacted at Regional level (DGR IX/3510-2012), in order to identify areas prone to anthropogenic diffuse pollution and their level of contamination. With a view to defining a management plan, it is necessary to find where MPS are most likely positioned. This paper describes a methodology devised to identify the areas with the highest likelihood to host potential MPS. A groundwater flow model was implemented for a pilot area located in the Milan FUA and through the PEST code, a Null-Space Monte Carlo method was applied in order to generate a suite of several hundred hydraulic conductivity field realizations, each maintaining the model in a calibrated state and each consistent with the modelers' expert-knowledge. Thereafter, the MODPATH code was applied to generate back-traced advective flowpaths for each of the models built using the conductivity field realizations. Maps were then created displaying the number of backtracked particles that crossed each model cell in each stochastic calibrated model. The result is considered to be representative of the FUAs areas with the highest likelihood to host MPS responsible for diffuse contamination.

Keywords: Diffuse contamination; Groundwater; Inverse stochastic modeling; MODFLOW; Uncertainty prediction.