Journal article

Influence of a coarse interlayer on seawater intrusion and contaminant migration in coastal aquifers

Vertical 2D slice laboratory experiments were carried out in homogenous and layered sand tanks to elucidate the effects of a highly permeable (coarse-grained sand) interlayer on seawater intrusion and transport of contaminants to a coastal sea. Tidal fluctuations produced oscillations in the seawater-freshwater transition zone, fluctuations of the contaminant infiltration rate and a zigzag contaminant plume outline. The seawater wedge became discontinuous at the (vertical) edges of the interlayer due to increased lateral movement of the seawater-freshwater interface within the interlayer. The contaminant plume formed a tail within the interlayer depending on the tidal stage and, similarly to the wedge, its movement was accentuated. A simple analytical model that neglected vertical flow reliably predicted steady-state seawater intrusion into the coastal aquifer. Numerical modeling was used to gain insight into the groundwater hydrodynamics and contaminant migration. The numerical results confirmed the experimental findings, i.e., that a highly permeable interlayer can provide a rapid transit path for contaminants to reach the seaward boundary, and that the interlayer amplifies the effects of tidal fluctuations, resulting in wider transition zones for the seawater wedge and contaminant plume. Numerical simulations further showed that, with increasing interlayer hydraulic conductivity, the maximum seawater intrusion distance inside the interlayer increases approximately linearly. For the fixed-head contaminant injection condition used, the model showed that contaminant infiltration increases approximately logarithmically with increasing interlayer hydraulic conductivity (as other factors held fixed).


Related material