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Quantifying groundwater discharge through fringing wetlands to estuaries: Seasonal variability, methods comparison, and implications for wetland-estuary exchange

Limnology and Oceanography

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Abstract

Because groundwater discharge along coastal shorelines is often concentrated in zones inhabited by fringing wetlands, accurately estimating discharge is essential for understanding its effect on the function and maintenance of these ecosystems. Most previous estimates of groundwater discharge to coastal wetlands have been temporally limited and have used only a single approach to estimate discharge. Furthermore, groundwater input has not been considered as a major mechanism controlling pore-water flushing. We estimated seasonally varying groundwater discharge into a fringing estuarine wetland using three independent methods (Darcy's Law, salt balance, and Br- tracer). Seasonal patterns of discharge predicted by both Darcy's Law and the salt balance yielded similar seasonal patterns with discharge maxima and minima in spring and early fall, respectively. They differed, however, in the estimated magnitude of discharge by two- to fourfold in spring and by 10-fold in fall. Darcy estimates of mean discharge ranged between -8.0 and 80 L m-2 d-1, whereas the salt balance predicted groundwater discharge of 0.6 to 22 L m-2 d-1. Results from the Br- tracer experiment estimated discharge at 16 L m-2 d-t, or nearly equal to the salt balance estimate at that time. Based upon the tracer test, pore-water conductivity profiles, and error estimates for the Darcy and salt balance approaches, we concluded that the salt balance provided a more certain estimate of groundwater discharge at high flow (spring). In contrast, the Darcy method provided a more reliable estimate during low flow (fall). Groundwater flushing of pore water in the spring exported solutes to the estuary at rates similar to tidally driven surface exchange seen in previous studies. Based on pore-water turnover times, the groundwater-driven flux of dissolved organic carbon (DOC), dissolved organic nitrogen (DON), and NH4+ to the estuary was 11.9, 1.6, and 1.3 g C or g N m-2 wetland for the 90 d encompassing peak spring discharge. Groundwater-induced flushing of the wetland subsurface therefore represents an important mechanism by which narrow fringing marshes may seasonally relieve salt stress and export material to adjacent water masses.

Additional Publication Details

Publication type:
Article
Publication Subtype:
Journal Article
Title:
Quantifying groundwater discharge through fringing wetlands to estuaries: Seasonal variability, methods comparison, and implications for wetland-estuary exchange
Series title:
Limnology and Oceanography
Volume
46
Issue:
3
Year Published:
2001
Language:
English
Larger Work Type:
Article
Larger Work Subtype:
Journal Article
Larger Work Title:
Limnology and Oceanography
First page:
604
Last page:
615
Number of Pages:
12