Scientists have recently recognized an imbalance in the flow of salty groundwater into the coastal ocean: considerable saltwater discharge into the ocean has been observed, but little or no return flow has been seen. Now it appears that the timing of the discharge may be key to the health of our coastal waters.
New measurements and models suggest that seasonal changes in the water table may provide clues to how water is exchanged and why the largest discharge occurs during the summer, when the coastal ocean may be most vulnerable to the dissolved chemicals in the groundwater because biological activity is at its highest and river inflow at its lowest.
Fresh and salty groundwater flows into coastal waters as submarine groundwater discharge and is an important source of nutrients, contaminants and trace elements to the coastal ocean. Recent research has revealed that a large portion of submarine groundwater discharge is saline water. Although this water was once ocean water, the mechanism controlling its flow into and out of the sediments has not been previously determined. Using seepage meters and geochemical tracers, scientists have directly measured and inferred groundwater flow from land to sea. But they have not previously been able to observe the opposite, large-scale flow or intrusion of seawater into coastal aquifers to balance this exchange.
Shelley Dawicki | EurekAlert!
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