A geophysical perspective of value of information: examples of spatial decisions for groundwater sustainability
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- Trainor-Guitton, W.J. Environ Syst Decis (2014) 34: 124. doi:10.1007/s10669-013-9487-9
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The value of information (VOI) can be used to determine what kind of spatial information maybe relevant and useful for groundwater sustainability decisions. In this paper, the unique challenges for applying VoI to spatial information from geophysical data are described. The uncertainty regarding the spatial structure or continuity of the subsurface properties can be described with geostatistical sample models. Using these models, one can quantify the prior value given our present state of uncertainty and a set of decision alternatives and outcomes. Because geophysical techniques are a type of remote-sensing data, assuming “perfect” information is not realistic since the techniques usually are indirectly sampling the aquifer properties. Therefore, the focus of this paper is describing how the data reliability (the measure of imperfectness) can be quantified. One of the foremost considerations is the non-unique relationship between geological parameters (which determine groundwater flow) and geophysical observables (what determines the response of the technique). Another is to have the information in a form such that it is useful for spatial decisions. This will often require inversion and interpretation of the geophysical data. Inversion reconstructs an image of the subsurface from the raw geophysical data. How closely the image reproduces the true subsurface structure or property of interest depends on the particular technique’s resolution, depth of investigation and sensor locations. Lastly, in some cases, interpretation of the geophysical data or inversion will be necessary to link the data to the variables that determine the outcome of the decision. Three examples are provided that illustrate different approaches and methods for addressing these challenges. In the examples, time-domain electromagnetic and electrical resistivity techniques are evaluated for their ability to assist in spatial decisions for aquifer management. The examples considered address these three situations: aquifer vulnerability to surface–borne contaminants, managed aquifer recharge and CO2/brine leakage (related to CO2 geologic sequestration activities). The methods presented here are transferable to other subsurface sciences and decisions that involve risk. Recent work has been applied to geothermal well-siting using electromagnetic techniques. These approaches can also be applied for oil and mining spatial decisions, and they offer advantages over previous VOI work done for oil applications: they explicitly include the geologic uncertainty modeling and simulate the physics of the considered geophysical technique.