Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Using heat as a tracer to determine groundwater seepage in the Indian River Lagoon, Florida, April–November, 2017

October 31, 2018

The U.S. Geological Survey, in cooperation with the St. Johns River Water Management District, conducted a study to examine water fluxes in two small study areas in the Indian River Lagoon. Vertical arrays of temperature sensors were placed at multiple locations in the lagoon bed to measure temperature time series in the vertical profile. These data at one of the study areas, Eau Gallie, were used in two numerical models, 1DTempPro and VFLUX, to estimate seepage flux rates into the lagoon. 1DTempPro uses an inverse-modeling approach to calibrate groundwater flux to the measured temperature time series. VFLUX isolates the fundamental frequency signal in the temperature data and utilizes the resulting amplitude and phase differences between sensor locations to determine vertical water flux.

Field measurements were made during two time periods, March 23 to April 28, 2017, and June 1 to November 3, 2017. Simulating the first, drier period at one location with 1DTempPro helped determine reasonable seepage fluctuations and provided guidelines for choosing which temperature sensor pairs used in the VFLUX simulations would produce the best results. VFLUX simulations at eight locations indicated daily average seepage flux rates of less than 20 centimeters per day (cm/d) and substantial seepage flux out to a distance of at least 110 meters from shore. The spatial variation in average seepage flux rates within 40 meters of shore seemed large, ranging from about 3 to 20 cm/d.

In the VFLUX application using the June 1–November 3, 2017 data, the seepage flux has a higher magnitude and fluctuation than the first simulation period, making the isolation of the fundamental temperature frequency signal in the temperature data difficult. However, useful partial or full simulations were achieved at 6 of the 10 locations. The storm surge of Hurricane Irma on September 10, 2017, changed the depths of the sensors relative to the lagoon bed and disrupted the ability of VFLUX to compute seepage flux for the posthurricane period. The June 1 to November 3, 2017, computed seepage flux rates were higher than those for the March 24 to April 28, 2017, period and were sometimes as great as 40 cm/d, and more than 60 cm/d at one location. The seepage time-series data collected during Hurricane Irma indicates a downward seepage flux as a result of the storm surge, followed by upwelling from precipitation recharge inland. The average seepage flux rates are higher than those during the March–April period and are over 25 cm/d near the coast and about 20 cm/d 130 meters offshore.