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Seawater-flooding events and impact on freshwater lenses of low-lying islands: Controlling factors, basic management and mitigation

April 28, 2017

An unprecedented set of hydrologic observations was collected after the Dec 2008 seawater-flooding event on Roi-Namur, Kwajalein Atoll, Republic of the Marshall Islands. By two days after the seawater flooding that occurred at the beginning of dry season, the observed salinity of water withdrawn by the island’s main skimming well increased to 100% seawater concentration, but by ten days later already decreased to only 10–20% of seawater fraction. However, the damaging impact on the potability of the groundwater supply (when pumped water had concentrations above 1% seawater fraction) lasted 22 months longer. The data collected make possible analyses of the hydrologic factors that control recovery and management of the groundwater-supply quality on Roi-Namur and on similar low-lying islands.

With the observed data as a guide, three-dimensional numerical-model simulation analyses reveal how recovery is controlled by the island’s hydrology. These also allow evaluation of the efficacy of basic water-quality management/mitigation alternatives and elucidate how groundwater withdrawal and timing of the seawater-flooding event affect the length of recovery. Simulations show that, as might be expected, by adding surplus captured rainwater as artificial recharge, the freshwater-lens recovery period (after which potable groundwater may again be produced) can be shortened, with groundwater salinity remaining lower even during the dry season, a period during which no artificial recharge is applied. Simulations also show that the recovery period is not lengthened appreciably by groundwater withdrawals during recovery. Simulations further show that had the flooding event occurred at the start of the wet season, the recovery period would have been about 25% (5.5 months) shorter than actually occurred during the monitored flood that occurred at the dry-season start. Finally, analyses show that artificial recharge improves freshwater-lens water quality, making possible longer use of groundwater as a water supply throughout each year, even when no seawater flooding has occurred.

Publication Year 2017
Title Seawater-flooding events and impact on freshwater lenses of low-lying islands: Controlling factors, basic management and mitigation
DOI 10.1016/j.jhydrol.2017.03.001
Authors Stephen B. Gingerich, Clifford I. Voss, Adam G. Johnson
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Journal of Hydrology
Index ID 70187323
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Pacific Islands Water Science Center