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Cell Rewetting

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The original USGS MODFLOW did not allow cells in unconfined layers to become re-saturated if the head dropped below the bottom elevation of the grid cell during the course of the simulation or during the solution iterations. Instead, these cells were simply made inactive for the remainder of the simulation. However, the USGS later extended the Block-Centered-Flow package (BCF2) to allow for the rewetting of these “dry” cells during a transient simulation. While this represented a major advancement for more accurate representations of water table aquifers, it also causes the solution to be much more unstable in some situations. More detailed information on the cell wetting and the BCF package can be found in the MODFLOW Packages Reference Manual included with your Visual MODFLOW media, in the Manual folder.


The Re-wetting settings may be accessed by selecting MODFLOW/Re-wetting from the top menu bar of the Run section. A Dry Cell Wetting Options window will appear as shown in the following figure, and described below.


Activate cell wetting (IWDFLG) is used to indicate if the wetting capability is active (IWDFLG = 1) or inactive (IWDFLG = 0).

Wetting threshold is used to determine if the dry cell needs to be wetted. For a dry cell to become wet, the head in the adjacent grid cell(s) must be greater than the elevation of the bottom of the dry cell plus the Wetting threshold value.

Wetting interval (IWETIT) indicates how often MODFLOW attempts to wet the dry cells detected during the course of the solution iterations. For example, if IWETIT = 2, cell wetting would be attempted at every second iteration. If a model with dry cells is having problems converging to a solution, it may be a result of oscillations due to drying and re-wetting of grid cells in sensitive regions of the model. Setting a larger cell wetting interval value may help the solution to converge, by allowing the heads in neighboring cells to get closer to a better solution before wetting the dry cells.


Wetting Methods

The wetting of a dry cell is triggered by the head values in adjacent grid cells (see Wetting threshold above). The Wetting method frame has two options for determining the adjacent grid cells to use for determining whether the dry cell should be wetted.


From below (WETDRY < 0) will use only the head in the grid cell directly below the dry cell to determine if the dry cell should be wetted. This option is generally more stable, and is particularly good when the adjacent horizontal cells are poor indicators of whether a cell should become wet (e.g. areas with steep vertical gradients and variable bottom elevations).

Wet cells from side and below (WETDRY > 0) will used the head in all four adjacent grid cells and the grid cell directly below the dry cell to determine if the dry cell should be wetted. This option is useful in situations where a dry cell is located above a no-flow cell, such that it cannot be re-wet from below. It is also applicable for one-layer models where there are no cells below. However, this method can cause some problems in multi-layer models where inactive cells occur beneath wet cells.


Wetting Head

When a dry cell is wetted, the new head may be calculated using one of two methods:


Calculated from neighbors

Head = Zbot + Wetting factor * (Neighboring head – Zbot)


Calculated from threshold

Head = Zbot + Wetting factor * Wetting threshold


Where Zbot is the elevation of the bottom of the current cell.


Generally, the first equation is thought to be more reasonable, since the cell’s new head is varied according to the head in the neighboring cell, which caused it to become wet. However, in situations where MODFLOW is over-estimating head changes during iterations, this equation may cause non-convergence. The second equation can then be used to attempt a more stable solution.


Setting Head Values in Dry Cells

Each dry cell is assigned a default head value as a flag to indicate it is dry. This value is typically a very large negative number (e.g. -1.0e30). However, the presence of large negative head values in dry cells may cause problems for parameter estimation simulations because this large negative value may be used to calculate the calibration residual (calculated head - observed head) at a grid cell that has become dry during one of the PEST iterations. In this case, it is more appropriate to assign the head value in dry cells equal to the cell bottom elevation to avoid this problem.


Setting Minimum Saturated Thickness

When PEST runs with varied model parameters, some of these runs may produce dry cells, and as a result MODFLOW assigns head values equal to -1.0e30 to all the dry cells. This can cause the objective function to be skewed, and the subsequent model runs to fail to converge. If the “Keep minimum saturated thickness for the bottom layer” option is activated by assigning an appropriate head value to the bottom cell, MODFLOW will keep the bottom cell saturated. It prevents the column from drying out, ensures that PEST will continue running even though the calculated head is actually below the bottom layer of the model, and helps with model convergence. It is recommended to not activate this option in the first run of a model because it is important to know if the dry cells exist or not, and by preventing the column from drying out, the model results could be misleading.


Hints For Using Dry Cell Wetting

Cell re-wetting often promotes a non-converging or unstable solution, which may be indicated by cells cycling between wet and dry. If this happens, we recommend you try the following:


Make inactive any cells that you know should never become wet.

Increase the Wetting threshold value. This makes it more difficult for a cell to be wetted, and therefore helps stop MODFLOW from repeatedly turning a cell on and then off again. However, the solution may become less accurate since cells that should become wet might stay dry.

Modify the Wetting factor value. This will increase or decrease the new head in cells which are wetted.

Change the Wetting method that controls cell wetting.

Change the Wetting head option that calculates the new head in the wetted cell.

Try using the SIP or PCG solver, and modifying the solver parameters.

For steady-state solutions, start with good initial head estimates. This will provide good indications of which cells should be wet and dry, and therefore conversions of cells between wet and dry will be minimized.




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