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The magnitude and origin of groundwater discharge to eastern U.S. and Gulf of Mexico coastal waters

October 31, 2017

Fresh groundwater discharge to coastal environments contributes to the physical and chemical conditions of coastal waters, but the role of coastal groundwater at regional to continental scales remains poorly defined due to diverse hydrologic conditions and the difficulty of tracking coastal groundwater flow paths through heterogeneous subsurface materials. We use three-dimensional groundwater flow models for the first time to calculate the magnitude and source areas of groundwater discharge from unconfined aquifers to coastal waterbodies along the entire eastern U.S. We find that 27.1 km3/yr (22.8–30.5 km3/yr) of groundwater directly enters eastern U.S. and Gulf of Mexico coastal waters. The contributing recharge areas comprised ~175,000 km2 of U.S. land area, extending several kilometers inland. This result provides new information on the land area that can supply natural and anthropogenic constituents to coastal waters via groundwater discharge, thereby defining the subterranean domain potentially affecting coastal chemical budgets and ecosystem processes.