An efficient space-fractional dispersion approximation for stream solute transport modeling

Chaopeng Shen, Mantha S. Phanikumar

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

37 Scopus citations


The success of transient storage (TS) modeling for natural streams depends, in part, on the ability to describe the dispersion process accurately. Evidence based on stream tracer data shows that solute transport processes often do not follow the classical second-order dispersion model (e.g., early breakthrough and faster than Fickian travel times were observed). While models based on space-fractional dispersion are a promising alternative, different definitions of fractional derivatives exist in the literature. Unlike integer-order derivatives, fractional derivatives represent convolutions of concentration with long-range spatial correlation and numerical approximations can produce dense matrices. Therefore issues of both accuracy and computational efficiency need to be examined to successfully identify model parameters for natural streams. In this paper, we first compare the performance of several numerical approaches for solving the space-fractional dispersion equation. We examine three different numerical approaches to approximate the space-fractional derivatives including: (a) a fully-implicit scheme based on the shifted Grünwald-Letnikov (GL) approximation (b) a three-point implicit representation based on the GL formula and (c) a three-point implicit scheme based on mass conservation and the Caputo definition of the fractional derivative. We then use an operator-splitting technique to evaluate a TS model based on space-fractional dispersion (the FSTS model) and test the model against analytical solutions and stream tracer data. A sequence acceleration method (Richardson extrapolation) significantly improves the performance of all schemes examined. Results indicate that the fully-implicit GL method with Richardson extrapolation produces the most accurate solutions while the three-point implicit GL scheme has a stringent time-step restriction to produce acceptable solutions. The three-point implicit scheme based on the Caputo derivative produces accurate solutions in a fraction of the time taken by the fully-implicit GL method and represents the best trade-off between accuracy and computational efficiency for practical applications. The scheme is suitable for parameter estimation and is used to successfully describe tracer data in a natural stream.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1482-1494
Number of pages13
JournalAdvances in Water Resources
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 2009

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Water Science and Technology


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