Publication: Application of Stable Isotopes of Water to Study Coupled Submarine Groundwater Discharge and Nutrient Delivery

in Water 11:9 (September 2019)
by Carlos Duque, Soren Jessen, Joel Tirado-Conde, Sachin Karan and Peter Engesgaard


Submarine groundwater discharge (SGD)—including terrestrial freshwater, density-driven flow at the saltwater–freshwater interface, and benthic exchange—can deliver nutrients to coastal areas, generating a negative effect in the quality of marine water bodies. It is recognized that water stable isotopes (18O and 2H) can be helpful tracers to identify different flow paths and origins of water. Here, we show that they can be also applied when assessing sources of nutrients to coastal areas.

A field site near a lagoon (Ringkøbing Fjord, Denmark) has been monitored at a metric scale to test if stable isotopes of water can be used to achieve a better understanding of the hydrochemical processes taking place in coastal aquifers, where there is a transition from freshwater to saltwater.

Results show that 18O and 2H differentiate the coastal aquifer into three zones: Freshwater, shallow, and deep saline zones, which corresponded well with zones having distinct concentrations of inorganic phosphorous. The explanation is associated with three mechanisms: (1) Differences in sediment composition, (2) chemical reactions triggered by mixing of different type of fluxes, and (3) biochemical and diffusive processes in the lagoon bed.

The different behaviors of nutrients in Ringkøbing Fjord need to be considered in water quality management. PO4 underneath the lagoon exceeds the groundwater concentration inland, thus demonstrating an intra-lagoon origin, while NO3, higher inland due to anthropogenic activity, is denitrified in the study area before reaching the lagoon.

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Publication: Evaluation of Temperature Profiling and Seepage Meter Methods for Quantifying Submarine Groundwater Discharge to Coastal Lagoons: Impacts of Saltwater Intrusion and the Associated Thermal Regime

in Water 11:8 (August 2019)
by Joel Tirado-Conde, Peter Engesgaard, Sachin Karan, Sascha Müller and Carlos Duque


Surface water-groundwater interactions were studied in a coastal lagoon performing 180 seepage meter measurements and using heat as a tracer in 30 locations along a lagoon inlet. The direct seepage meter measurements were compared with the results from analytical solutions for the 1D heat transport equation in three different scenarios: (1) Homogeneous bulk thermal conductivity (Ke); (2) horizontal heterogeneity in Ke; and (3) horizontal and vertical heterogeneity in Ke.

The proportion of fresh groundwater and saline recirculated lagoon water collected from the seepage experiment was used to infer the location of the saline wedge and its effect on both the seepage meter results and the thermal regime in the lagoon bed, conditioning the use of the thermal methods.

The different scenarios provided the basis for a better understanding of the underlying processes in a coastal groundwater-discharging area, a key factor to apply the best-suited method to characterize such processes. The thermal methods were more reliable in areas with high fresh groundwater discharge than in areas with high recirculation of saline lagoon water.

The seepage meter experiments highlighted the importance of geochemical water sampling to estimate the origin of the exchanged water through the lagoon bed.

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Publication: Heterogeneity and Prior Uncertainty Investigation Using a Joint Heat and Solute Tracer Experiment in Alluvial Sediments

in frontiers in Earth Sciences (May 2019)
by Richard Hoffmann, Alain Dassargues, Pascal Goderniaux, Thomas Hermans


In heterogeneous aquifers, imaging preferential flow paths, and non-Gaussian effects is critical to reduce uncertainties in transport predictions. Common deterministic approaches relying on a single model for transport prediction show limitations in capturing these processes and tend to smooth parameter distributions. Monte-Carlo simulations give one possible way to explore the uncertainty range of parameter value distributions needed for realistic predictions. Joint heat and solute tracer tests provide an innovative option for transport characterization using complementary tracer behaviors. Heat tracing adds the effect of heat advection-conduction to solute advection-dispersion.

In this contribution, a joint interpretation of heat and solute tracer data sets is proposed for the alluvial aquifer of the Meuse River at the Hermalle-sous-Argenteau test site (Belgium). First, a density-viscosity dependent flow-transport model is developed and induce, due to the water viscosity changes, up to 25% change in simulated heat tracer peak times. Second, stochastic simulations with hydraulic conductivity (K) random fields are used for a global sensitivity analysis. The latter highlights the influence of spatial parameter uncertainty on the resulting breakthrough curves, stressing the need for a more realistic uncertainty quantification.

This global sensitivity analysis in conjunction with principal component analysis assists to investigate the link between the prior distribution of parameters and the complexity of the measured data set. It allows to detect approximations done by using classical inversion approaches and the need to consider realistic K-distributions.

Furthermore, heat tracer transport is shown as significantly less sensitive to porosity compared to solute transport. Most proposed models are, nevertheless, not able to simultaneously simulate the complementary heat-solute tracers.

Therefore, constraining the model using different observed tracer behaviors necessarily comes with the requirement to use more-advanced parameterization and more realistic spatial distribution of hydrogeological parameters. The added value of data from both tracer signals is highlighted, and their complementary behavior in conjunction with advanced model/prediction approaches shows a strong uncertainty reduction potential.

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Datasets of this study are to be found on the H+ database

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