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Saltwater intrusion in the Floridan aquifer system near downtown Brunswick, Georgia, 1957–2015

February 16, 2017


The Floridan aquifer system (FAS) consists of the Upper Floridan aquifer (UFA), an intervening confining unit of highly variable properties, and the Lower Floridan aquifer (LFA). The UFA and LFA are primarily composed of Paleocene- to Oligocene-age carbonate rocks that include, locally, Upper Cretaceous rocks. The FAS extends from coastal areas in southeastern South Carolina and continues southward and westward across the coastal plain of Georgia and Alabama, and underlies all of Florida. The thickness of the FAS varies from less than 100 feet (ft) in aquifer outcrop areas of South Carolina to about 1,700 ft near the city of Brunswick, Georgia.

Locally, in southeastern Georgia and the Brunswick– Glynn County area, the UFA consists of an upper water-bearing zone (UWBZ) and a lower water-bearing zone (LWBZ), as identified by Wait and Gregg (1973), with aquifer test data indicating the upper zone has higher productivity than the lower zone. Near the city of Brunswick, the LFA is composed of two permeable zones: an early middle Eocene-age upper permeable zone (UPZ) and a highly permeable lower zone of limestone (LPZ) of Paleocene and Late Cretaceous age that includes a deeply buried, cavernous, saline water-bearing unit known as the Fernandina permeable zone. Maslia and Prowell (1990) inferred the presence of major northeast–southwest trending faults through the downtown Brunswick area based on structural analysis of geophysical data, northeastward elongation of the potentiometric surface of the UFA, and breaches in the local confining unit that influence the area of chloride contamination. Pronounced horizontal and vertical hydraulic head gradients, caused by pumping in the UFA, allow saline water from the FPZ to migrate upward into the UFA through this system of faults and conduits.

Saltwater was first detected in the FAS in wells completed in the UFA near the southern part of the city of Brunswick in late 1957. By the 1970s, a plume of groundwater with high chloride concentrations had migrated northward toward two major industrial pumping centers, and since 1965, chloride concentrations have steadily increased in the northern part of the city. In 1978, data obtained from a 2,720-ft-deep test well (33H188) drilled south of the city showed water with a chloride concentration of 33,000 milligrams per liter (mg/L), suggesting the saltwater source was located below the UFA in the Fernandina permeable zone (FPZ) of the LFA.

All U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) data collected for this study, including groundwater levels in wells and water-chemistry data, are available in the USGS National Water Information System.

Publication Year 2017
Title Saltwater intrusion in the Floridan aquifer system near downtown Brunswick, Georgia, 1957–2015
DOI 10.3133/ofr20171010
Authors Gregory S. Cherry, Michael Peck
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Open-File Report
Series Number 2017-1010
Index ID ofr20171010
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization South Atlantic Water Science Center