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GEOS-5311 Lecture Notes: Introduction to the

Analytic Element Method

Dr. T. Brikowski

Spring 2013

Version 1.7, March 21, 2013

Introduction to Analytic Element Method


What is the analytic element method (AEM)? A formalized

approach toward solving problems using multiple
superimposed analytic solutions (aka semi-analytic
approach, e.g. the WHPA code, Blandford, 1991)

Method popularized by Otto Strack (Strack, 1989), several of

his students have made important extensions (3-D flow,
Haitjema, 1995); (treatment of heterogeneities, Fitts, 1991)

AEM is best suited for solving 2-D steady-state problems

quickly. It makes an excellent first-cut model, good for
interpretive exploration before predictive modeling
AEM examples:

Netherlands national hydrologic model (NAGROM, Lange,

Oct. 2-5, 1989)
delineation of wellhead protection areas (WHPAs), (Kraemer
and Burden, 1992)
most recent summary (circa 1997) is Lange and Strack (1999)

Basic Theory

each source/sink in a problem is represented by an analytic

solution (e.g. wells, sections of rivers, lakes, areal recharge)

the solutions must be independent of one another (essentially

the governing equation must be linear, e.g. Laplaces

assuming some of these source/sinks are of unknown strength,

the strengths required to match observed heads are obtained
by solving all the analytic solutions simultaneously (i.e. they
are assembled into a matrix equation)

AEM Summary

AEM excels in giving a modular view of the system.

conceptually pure in that the elements of the model are

discrete hydrologic entities (e.g. a lake), rather than a
geometric element (e.g. grid cell)

especially good for interpretive models

calculates streamlines directly (particle paths in steady state),

so in principle more accurate (for simple cases)

also useful for preliminary (simplified) model in preparation for

detailed discretized model (Hunt et al., 1998)

my main use has been to estimate source/sink strength in a

complex system

as-implemented in GMS-5.0 is used in Map Module for trial

quantitative models of conceptual models, i.e. best use is to
explore and refine your conceptual model

AEM Summary (cont.)

Bottom line: good tool for exploring effect of various

hydrologic system components on a flow-net view of that
system. Not yet ready for prime-time in GMS. See EPAs
WhAEM for best implementation.

Discharge Potential

for convenience, potential is described in terms of a discharge

potential (), which is essentially head h multiplied by
hydraulic conductivity K and aquifer thickness b
defining total discharge Q in a confined aquifer given the
specific discharge q (see Strack, 1989, p. 22)

Qx = bqx
= b K


Qy = bqy
= b K

where = Kbh + C , and C is an arbitrary constant.
using , the governing equation for 2-D confined flow
simplifies to
= 0
x 2
y 2


Simple Analytic Solutions

The simple form of the flow equation (1) allows algebraic solutions
to be developed:

Radial flow, e.g. a well in homogeneous aquifer (head at

distance R = ho , well flux is Q). The total discharge at a
distance r from the well can be written by inspection as (2)
Q = 2r (Qr ) = 2r


Q r 
+ o


where (3) is the Theim equation expressed in terms of , and

is obtained by integration of (2) given boundary conditions.

Complex Potential

generally we wish to know the potential (head) and the flow

rate and direction. This latter is conveniently described by the
streamfunction (), which for Laplaces equation is always
perpendicular to the potential (i.e. the basis for flownets)

such orthogonal functions are conveniently described using

complex numbers, or in this case the complex potential
= + i, where i is the square-root of -1.

the complex discharge function can be defined as

W =


where the complex coordinate z = x + iy

Complex Potential (cont.)


Radial flow solution. Solutions (2)(3) can be written in terms

of the complex potential, where zw is the location of the well:
ln (z zw ) + C
ln |z zw |2 + C

y yw

x xw


where 4b is the real part of 4a and 4c is the complex part.


Constant-head boundary. These are treated as a pair of point

source/sinks of equal strength and opposite sign. In this case
a line equidistant from both points (i.e. midway between
them, and perpendicular to the line joining the points)
represents an equipotential. These are referred to as a dipole.

Complex Potential (cont.)

No-flow boundary. These are generally treated using the

method of images (all source/sinks are duplicated/reflected on
the other side of the boundary, Fig. 1). For example given a
pair of point source/sinks of equal strengths. The line
mid-way between these points is now a streamline (i.e. no
flow perpendicular to it). Generally referred to in AEM
literature as a doublet.

Method of Images

Figure 1: Method of images, using imaginary (image) wells or point

source/sinks to represent no-flow and fixed-head boundaries. After Freeze
and Cherry (Fig 8.15, 1979).

Matrix Solution

an equation is written for the potential at a reference point on

or near each unknown source/sink (element)

this equation consists of the contribution at the given point by

all known and unknown strength elements plus the potential
at an arbitrary reference point

each equation can be rearranged with all known parameters

on the right

the resulting set of equations can be solved in matrix form,

where the matrix is compose of geometric factors for each
unknown source, the unknown vector is the strengths of these
sources, and the known vector is the contribution of
known-strength source/sinks and potential at calibration

Particle Paths

Given the streamfunction, particle paths can be easily determined:


ending location for particles is chosen (usually a well)

streamfunction contour passing through that point is


simple mathematically, can be time-consuming numerically

still generally faster than the standard Modflow-Modpath


The software package ModAEM attempts to implement AEM
modeling in a modular fashion.

each source/sink object is implemented by including a line

specifying the type and location of the object (usually called a

the advantage is in considering your problem in a modular

fashion (i.e. piece by piece)
objects include


Point objects: wells

Line objects:

Areal objects:

constant discharge (usually no-flow, left side, Fig. 2)

constant head, right side, Fig. 2
areal sources: recharge zones, ET, lake/pond (with fixed
discharge) Figs. 34
heterogeneities: represented by polygons (usually), across the
boundaries of which the streamlines are refracted (Fig. 5)

Leaky line objects: rivers, drains (Fig. 6)

Areal Method of Images

Figure 2: Map view, method of images used to represent linear

boundaries (no flow and constant head). After Strack (Fig. 2.4, 1989).

Areal Source Head

Figure 3: Head contours for areal source/sink. After Strack (Fig.

6.16-17, 1989).

Areal Source Streamlines

Areal Source Streamlines (cont.)

Figure 4: Streamlines for areal source in uniform flow. Top figure shows
source locally exceeding discharge from uniform flow (i.e. a stagnation
point S forms. Lower figure shows weaker source. After Strack (Fig.
4.8, 1989).


Figure 5: Streamlines for areal heterogeneity, modeled by line doublets.

After Strack (Fig. 6.28, 1989).

Leaky Lines

Figure 6: Streamlines for a leaky line, here representing a fracture.

Drains and rivers are analagous structures, all can be modeled by line
doublets. After Strack (Fig. 6.10, 1989).

Leaky Lines (cont.)

Blandford, T.N.: U.S. EPA WHPA Model: A modular semi-analytical
model for the delineation of wellhead protection areas, Vers. 2.0.
American Inst. Hydrology, Minneapolis, MN (1991)
Fitts, C.R.: Modeling three-dimensional flow about ellipsoidal
inhomogeneities with application to flow to a gravel-packed well and
flow through lens-shaped inhomogeneities. Water Resour. Res. 27,
815824 (1991)
Freeze, R.A., Cherry, J.A.: Groundwater. Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs,
NJ (1979)
Haitjema, H.M.: Analytic Element Modeling of Groundwater Flow.
Academic Press, San Diego, CA (1995), iSBN 0-12-316550-4
Hunt, R.J., Anderson, M.P., Kelson, V.A.: Improving a complex
finite-difference ground water flow model through the use of an
analytic element screening model. Ground Water 36(6), 10111017
(December 1998)

References (cont.)
Kraemer, S.R., Burden, D.S.: Capture zone delineation using the analytic
element method; a computer modeling demonstration for the city of
hays, kansas. Ground Water Management 9, 697 (1992)
Lange, W.J.D.: Application of the analytic element method for national
groundwater management in the netherlands. pp. 285293.
Proceedings of the symposium on Ground water management; quantity
and quality, Benidorm, Spain (Oct 2-5, 1989), iAHS-AISH Publ. 188
Lange, W.J.D., Strack, O.D.L.: Introductory comments, analytic-based
modeling of groundwater flow special issue. J. Hydrol. 226(3-4), 127
(December 1999), http://www.sciencedirect.com/science?_ob=
Strack, O.D.L.: Groundwater Mechanics. Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs,
NJ (1989)