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Transient groundwater dynamics in a coastal aquifer: The effects of tides, the lunar cycle, and the beach profile

Authors

  • Elena Abarca,

    1. Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA
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  • Hanan Karam,

    1. Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA
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  • Harold F. Hemond,

    1. Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA
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  • Charles F. Harvey

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA
    • Corresponding author: C. F. Harvey, Parsons Laboratory, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 77 Massachusetts Ave., Room 48-309 Cambridge, MA 02139-4307, USA. (charvey@mit.edu)

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Abstract

[1] Detailed field measurements are combined with a numerical modeling to characterize the groundwater dynamics beneath the discharge zone at Waquoit Bay, Massachusetts. Groundwater salinity values revealed a saline circulation cell that overlaid the discharging freshwater and grew and disappeared with the lunar cycle. The cell was initiated by a greater bay water infiltration during the new moon when high tides overtopped the mean high-tide mark, flooding the flatter beach berm and inundating a larger area of the beach. The dynamics of this cell were further characterized by a tracer test and by constructing a density-dependent flow model constrained to salinity and head data. The numerical model captured the growing and diminishing behavior of the circulation cell and provided the estimates of freshwater and saline water fluxes and travel times. Furthermore, the model enabled quantification of the relationship between the characteristics of the observed tidal cycle (maximum, minimum, and mean tidal elevations) and the different components of the groundwater circulation (freshwater discharge, intertidal saline cycling, and deep saline cycling). We found that (1) recharge to the intertidal saline cell is largely controlled by the high-tide elevation; (2) freshwater discharge is positively correlated to the low-tide elevation, whereas deep saline discharge from below the discharging freshwater is negatively correlated to the low-tide elevation. So, when the low-tide elevation is relatively high, more freshwater discharges and less deep saltwater discharges. In contrast when low tides are very low, less freshwater discharges and more deep salt water discharges; (3) offshore inflow of saline water is largely insensitive to tides and the lunar cycle.

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