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Tipping points for seawater intrusion in coastal aquifers under rising sea level
Stockholm University, Faculty of Science, Department of Physical Geography and Quaternary Geology. National Observatory of Athens, Greece.
Stockholm University, Faculty of Science, Department of Physical Geography and Quaternary Geology.
2013 (English)In: Environmental Research Letters, ISSN 1748-9326, Vol. 8, no 1, 014001- p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

This study considers different projections of climate-driven sea-level rise and uses a recently developed, generalized analytical model to investigate the responses of sea intrusion in unconfined sloping coastal aquifers to climate-driven sea-level rise. The results show high nonlinearity in these responses, implying important thresholds, or tipping points, beyond which the responses of seawater intrusion to sea-level rise shift abruptly from a stable state of mild change responses to a new stable state of large responses to small changes that can rapidly lead to full seawater intrusion into a coastal aquifer. The identified tipping points are of three types: (a) spatial, for the particular aquifers (sections) along a coastline with depths that imply critical risk of full sea intrusion in response to even small sea-level rise; (b) temporal, for the critical sea-level rise and its timing, beyond which the change responses and the risk of complete sea intrusion in an aquifer shift abruptly from low to very high; and (c) managerial, for the critical minimum values of groundwater discharge and hydraulic head that inland water management must maintain in an aquifer in order to avoid rapid loss of control and complete sea intrusion in response to even small sea-level rise. The existence of a tipping point depends on highly variable aquifer properties and groundwater conditions, in combination with more homogeneous sea conditions. The generalized analytical model used in this study facilitates parsimonious quantification and screening of sea-intrusion risks and tipping points under such spatio-temporally different condition combinations along extended coastlines.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2013. Vol. 8, no 1, 014001- p.
Keyword [en]
sloping coastal aquifer, seawater intrusion, sea-level rise, sharp interface, tipping points
National Category
Environmental Sciences Meteorology and Atmospheric Sciences
Research subject
Physical Geography
URN: urn:nbn:se:su:diva-90014DOI: 10.1088/1748-9326/8/1/014001ISI: 000316998300008OAI: diva2:622036


Available from: 2013-05-20 Created: 2013-05-20 Last updated: 2014-05-09Bibliographically approved
In thesis
1. Seawater intrusion risks and controls for safe use of coastal groundwater under multiple change pressures
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Seawater intrusion risks and controls for safe use of coastal groundwater under multiple change pressures
2014 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

In the era of intense pressures on water resources, the loss of groundwater by increased seawater intrusion (SWI), driven by climate, sea level and landscape changes, may be critical for many people living in commonly populous coastal regions. Analytical solutions have been derived here for interface flow in coastal aquifers, which allow for simple quantification of SWI under extended conditions from previously available such solutions and are suitable for first-order regional vulnerability assessment and mapping of the implications of climate- and landscape-driven change scenarios and related comparisons across various coastal world regions. Specifically, the derived solutions can account for the hydraulically significant aquifer bed slope in quantifying the toe location of a fresh-seawater sharp interface in the present assessments of vulnerability and safe exploitation of regional coastal groundwater. 

Results show high nonlinearity of SWI responses to hydro-climatic and groundwater pumping changes on the landside and sea level rise on the marine side, implying thresholds, or tipping points, which, if crossed, may lead abruptly to major SWI of the aquifer. Critical limits of coastal groundwater change and exploitation have been identified and quantified in direct relation to prevailing local-regional conditions and stresses, defining a safe operating space for the human use of coastal groundwater. Generally, to control SWI, coastal aquifer management should focus on adequate fresh groundwater discharge to the sea, rather than on maintaining a certain hydraulic head at some aquifer location. First-order vulnerability assessments for regional Mediterranean aquifers of the Nile Delta Aquifer, the Israel Coastal Aquifer  and the Cyprus Akrotiri Aquifer show that in particular the first is seriously threatened by advancing seawater. Safe operating spaces determined for the latter two show that the current pumping schemes are not sustainable under declining recharge.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Stockholm: Department of Physical Geography and Quaternary Geology, Stockholm University, 2014. 36 p.
Dissertations from the Department of Physical Geography and Quaternary Geology, ISSN 1653-7211 ; 42
seawater intrusion, coastal aquifer, tipping points, safe operating space, analytical solution
National Category
Oceanography, Hydrology, Water Resources
Research subject
Physical Geography
urn:nbn:se:su:diva-103137 (URN)978-91-7447-907-2 (ISBN)
Public defence
2014-06-12, Högbomsalen, Geovetenskapens hus, Svante Arrhenius väg 14, Stockholm, 13:00 (English)

The thesis was founded by two research programmes: NEO private-academic sector partnership and Ekoklim, a strategic governmental funding through Stockholm University

At the time of the doctoral defense, the following paper was unpublished and had a status as follows: Paper 3: Manuscript.


Available from: 2014-05-22 Created: 2014-05-06 Last updated: 2014-06-16Bibliographically approved

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