Journal article

Transport of variable-density solute plumes in beach aquifers in response to oceanic forcing

A comprehensive numerical study was undertaken to investigate transport of a variable-density, conservative solute plume in an unconfined coastal aquifer subject to high and low frequency oceanic forcing. The model combined variable-density saturated flow for groundwater and solute transport, and wave hydrodynamics from a 2D Navier-Stokes solver. A sinusoidal tidal signal was specified by implementing time-varying heads at the seaward boundary. The solute plume behavior was investigated under different oceanic forcing conditions: no forcing, waves, tide, and combined waves and tide. For each forcing condition, four different injected solute densities (freshwater, brackish water, seawater, brine) were used to investigate the effects of density on the transport of the injected plume beneath and across the beach face. The plume’s low-order spatial moments were computed, viz., mass, centroid, variance and aspect ratio. The results confirmed that both tide- and wave-forcing produce an upper saline plume beneath the beach face in addition to the classical saltwater wedge. For the no-forcing and tide-only cases (during rising tides), an additional small circulation cell below the beach face was observed. Oceanic forcing affects strongly the solute plume’s flow path, residence time and discharge rate across the beach face, as well as its spreading. For the same oceanic forcing, solute plumes with different densities follow different trajectories from the source to the discharge location (beach face). The residence time and plume spreading increased with plume density. It was concluded that simulations that neglect the effect of waves or tides cannot reproduce accurately solute plume dispersion and also, in the case of coasts with small waves or tides, the solute residence time in the aquifer.

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