Surface water–groundwater exchange dynamics in a tidal freshwater zone

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Abstract

In coastal rivers, tides can propagate for tens to hundreds of kilometres inland beyond the saltwater line. Yet the influence of tides on river–aquifer connectivity and solute transport in tidal freshwater zones (TFZs) is largely unknown. We estimate that along the TFZ of White Clay Creek (Delaware, USA), 11% of river water exchanges through tidal bank storage zones. Additional hyporheic processes such as flow through bedforms likely contribute even more exchange. The turnover length associated with tidal bank storage is 150 km, on the order of turnover lengths for all hyporheic exchange processes in non-tidal rivers of similar size. Based on measurements at a transect of piezometers located 17 km from the coast, tides exchange 0.36 m3 of water across the banks and 0.86 m3 across the bed per unit river length. Exchange fluxes range from −1.66 to 2.26 m day−1 across the bank and −0.84 to 1.88 m day−1 across the bed. During rising tide, river water infiltrates into the riparian aquifer, and the downstream transport rate in the channel is low. During falling tide, stored groundwater is released to the river, and the downstream transport rate in the channel increases. Tidal bank storage zones may remove nutrients or other contaminants from river water and attenuate nutrient loads to coasts. Alternating expansion and contraction of aerobic zones in the riparian aquifer likely influence contaminant removal along flow paths. A clear need exists to understand contaminant removal and other ecosystem services in TFZs and adopt best management practices to promote these ecosystem services. Copyright © 2015 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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