Inverse methods can be used to recover the pollutant source location from concentration data. In this paper, the relative effectiveness of two proposed methods, simultaneous release function and source location identification (SRSI) and backward probability model based on adjoint state method (BPM-ASM) are evaluated using real data collected by using experimental equipment. The device is a sandbox that reproduces an unconfined aquifer in which all the variables are controlled. A numerical model was calibrated using experimental observations. The SRSI is a stochastic procedure which finds the source location and the release history by means of a Bayesian geostatistical approach (GA). The BPM-ASM provides the backward probability location of the pollutant detected at a monitoring point by means of a reverse transport simulation. The results show that both methods perform well. While the simultaneous release function and SRSI method requires a preliminary delineation of a probable source area and some weak hypotheses about the statistical structure of the unknown release function, the backward probability model requires some hypothesis about the contaminant release time. A case study was performed using two observation points only, and despite the scarcity of data, both methodologies were able to accurately reconstruct the true source location. The GA has the advantage to recover the release history function too, whilst the backward probability model works well with fewer data. If there are many observations, both methodologies may be computationally heavy. A transfer function approach has been adopted for the numerical definition of the sensitivity matrix in the SRSI method. The reliability of the experimental equipment was tested in previous laboratory works, conducted under several different conditions.
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