Characterization of the hydrodynamics and saltwater wedge variations in a coastal karst aquifer in response to tide and precipitation events (Bell Harbour catchment, county Clare, Ireland)

Perriquet, Marie Jr
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Low-lying coastal areas in the west of Ireland, such as the Galway and Clare coasts, have seen recent increases in flooding frequencies coupled with overall increases in sea level. The impacts of these changes are most strongly felt in coastal karst catchments and this study focuses on one such area, the Bell Harbour catchment (~50 km²), where there is a clear interaction between rainfall inputs and tidal influences, to create a terrestrial saltwater wedge. The groundwater circulating in this catchment drains to the bay via submarine springs and intertidal diffuse springs. Data (specific conductivity and water levels) have been collected at two coastal springs, six boreholes, three lakes, and from discrete locations in the middle of the bay, using dedicated loggers over extended periods. Two approaches that provided consistent results were used to explain the different hydrodynamic behaviours identified in the boreholes (conduits, fissures and matrix flows): i) analysis of the recession curves of the groundwater data, and ii) analysis of the impact of the tide on groundwater data using the Ferris equations. Specific conductivity variations and water chemistry measured in six boreholes and two lakes allowed for assessment of the spatial extent of the saltwater wedge into the aquifer as a function of both karst recharge and tidal movements at high/low and neap/spring tidal cycles. The extent of the saltwater wedge depends on the intrinsic properties of the aquifer but also on the relative influence of the recharge and the tide on groundwater levels, which induce opposite behaviours. This dynamic between recharge and the tide thus controls the seawater inputs, hence explaining temporal and spatial changes in the saltwater wedge in this coastal karst aquifer. Large tidal amplitudes seems to be the motor of sudden saltwater intrusion observed in the aquifer near the shore while the relative elevation of the groundwater appears to influence the intensity of the salinity increase. The magnitude of annual recharge in the area is high enough to limit saltwater intrusion to no more than about one kilometre inland from the shore. Given the anticipated decreases in summer precipitation (~10 percent), coupled with anticipated sea level rises, the extent of the saltwater wedge into the aquifer and frequencies of flooding are likely to increase in coming decades.
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Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Ireland