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A novel approach for direct estimation of fresh groundwater discharge to an estuary

January 1, 2011

Coastal groundwater discharge is an important source of freshwater and nutrients to coastal and estuarine systems. Directly quantifying the spatially integrated discharge of fresh groundwater over a coastline is difficult due to spatial variability and limited observational methods. In this study, I applied a novel approach to estimate net freshwater discharge from a groundwater-fed tidal creek over a spring-neap cycle, with high temporal resolution. Acoustic velocity instruments measured tidal water fluxes while other sensors measured vertical and lateral salinity to estimate cross-sectionally averaged salinity. These measurements were used in a time-dependent version of Knudsen's salt balance calculation to estimate the fresh groundwater contribution to the tidal creek. The time-series of fresh groundwater discharge shows the dependence of fresh groundwater discharge on tidal pumping, and the large difference between monthly mean discharge and instantaneous discharge over shorter timescales. The approach developed here can be implemented over timescales from days to years, in any size estuary with dominant groundwater inputs and well-defined cross-sections. The approach also directly links delivery of groundwater from the watershed with fluxes to the coastal environment. Copyright. Published in 2011 by the American Geophysical Union.