Heterogeneity is the single most salient feature of hydrogeology. An enormous amount of work has been devoted during the last 30 years to addressing this issue. Our objective is to synthesize and to offer a critical appraisal of results related to the problem of finding representative hydraulic conductivities. By representative hydraulic conductivity we mean a parameter controlling the average behavior of groundwater flow within an aquifer at a given scale. Three related concepts are defined: effective hydraulic conductivity, which relates the ensemble averages of flux and head gradient; equivalent conductivity, which relates the spatial averages of flux and head gradient within a given volume of an aquifer; and interpreted conductivity, which is the one derived from interpretation of field data. Most theoretical results are related to effective conductivity, and their application to real world scenarios relies on ergodic assumptions. Fortunately, a number of results are available suggesting that conventional hydraulic test interpretations yield (interpreted) hydraulic conductivity values that can be closely linked to equivalent and/or effective hydraulic conductivities. Complex spatial distributions of geologic hydrofacies and flow conditions have a strong impact upon the existence and the actual values of representative parameters. Therefore it is not surprising that a large body of literature provides particular solutions for simplified boundary conditions and geological settings, which are, nevertheless, useful for many practical applications. Still, frequent observations of scale effects imply that efforts should be directed at characterizing well‐connected stochastic random fields and at evaluating the corresponding representative hydraulic conductivities.

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Published on 01/01/2006

DOI: 10.1029/2005RG000169
Licence: CC BY-NC-SA license

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