Journal article

Seawater intrusion processes, investigation and management: Recent advances and future challenges

Seawater intrusion (SI) is a global issue, exacerbated by increasing demands for freshwater in coastal zones and predisposed to the influences of rising sea levels and changing climates. This review presents the state of knowledge in SI research, compares classes of methods for assessing and managing SI, and suggests areas for future research. We subdivide SI research into categories relating to processes, measurement, prediction and management. Considerable research effort spanning more than 50 years has provided an extensive array of field, laboratory and computer-based techniques for SI investigation. Despite this, knowledge gaps exist in SI process understanding, in particular associated with transient SI processes and timeframes, and the characterization and prediction of freshwater-saltwater interfaces over regional scales and in highly heterogeneous and dynamic settings. Multidisciplinary research is warranted to evaluate interactions between SI and submarine groundwater discharge, ecosystem health and unsaturated zone processes. Recent advances in numerical simulation, calibration and optimization techniques require rigorous field-scale application to contemporary issues of climate change, sea-level rise, and socioeconomic and ecological factors that are inseparable elements of SI management. The number of well-characterized examples of SI is small, and this has impeded understanding of field-scale processes, such as those controlling mixing zones, saltwater upconing, heterogeneity effects and other factors. Current SI process understanding is based mainly on numerical simulation and laboratory sand-tank experimentation to unravel the combined effects of tides, surface water groundwater interaction, heterogeneity, pumping and density contrasts. The research effort would benefit from intensive measurement campaigns to delineate accurately interfaces and their movement in response to real-world coastal aquifer stresses, encompassing a range of geological and hydrological settings.

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