Spatial and Temporal Tracer Test Data Analysis

Kenneth Carroll, Plant & Environmental Sciences Department NMSU

Author Profile


This is an assignment I worked on with Dr. Brusseau (University of Arizona) for his Contaminant Transport class. In this problem solving exercise, students are provided data sets that could be obtained by monitoring flow and transport of a tracer or contaminant in the field or in a soil column experiment in the laboratory. They will need to input the equations into a spreadsheet to complete the assignment.

Used this activity? Share your experiences and modifications



This assignment requires data analysis, plotting, statistical analysis, and is appropriate for a hydrogeology class while examining solute transport (or a solute transport class).

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

This project combines aspects of hydrogeology and solute transport. The students should be aware of Darcy's Law and how it can be used to evaluate solute transport

How the activity is situated in the course

The "MomentAnalysis_Notes" (supporting materials) should be provided and explained to students as an introduction to the assignment.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

-Recognize and describe differences in spatial and temporal data
-Understand physical representation of statistical moments of concentration data
-Be able to plot data sets, determine slopes, and input equations into spreadsheets
-Identify processes impacting fluid flow and solute transport behavior through observation and analysis of concentration monitoring data
-Understand the importance and practical applicability of mass balance calculations and dimensional analysis

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

The analysis is designed to illustrate the similarities and differences in spatial and transient data, which supports measurement and monitoring strategies in hydrogeology, soils, and geochemistry. The assignments were also designed to illustrate the link between groundwater flow and solute transport. The goal is the develop problem solving skills by guiding students through calculations with targeted questions. Student engagement is developed through active learning and real-world practical application. The exercises reinforce theory with practical applications of data analysis used to determine solute transport properties and assess the subsurface conceptual model.

Other skills goals for this activity

It is meant to also illustrate Darcy's Law soil column experiment applicability as an analog for groundwater flow and solute transport in the field. The students gain practice at organizing and evaluating data sets, conducting calculations, and using data to develop observations and evaluate processes.

Description and Teaching Materials

The project is described in detail in the "TracerAnalysis_Activity" file, which except for the upfront section can be provided as the assignment for students. The "MomentAnalysis_Notes" should be discussed with students prior to the assignment. The "RawData" file should also be provided to the students. The "TracerAnalysis_Answers" provides information to instructors on assessment.

Tracer Test Data Analysis Activity (Microsoft Word 215kB Jun6 13)
Moment Analysis Equations Description (Acrobat (PDF) 167kB Jun6 13)
Tracer Test Data (Excel 56kB Jun6 13)
Completed Activity (Excel 188kB Jun6 13)
Activity Answers and Discussions (Microsoft Word 240kB Jun6 13)

Teaching Notes and Tips


A write-up of the completed project with discussion is included along with a spreadsheet file that has the solved calculations. Instructors typically use these to assess student work.

References and Resources