An ascending-brine model is proposed to address the observed isotope geochemistry, solute composition, and solute and water fluxes in the coastal sabkha of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi. Mass-balance measurements document that >95% of the solutes are derived from ascending continental brines; minor amounts are derived from rainfall and from groundwater entering from upgradient areas. Nearly 100% of the annual water loss is from evaporation and not lateral discharge. Direct rainfall on the sabkha and subsequent recharge to the underlying aquifer account for ~ 90% of the annual water input to the system; the remaining 10% comes from both lateral and ascending groundwater flow. Thus, the water and solutes in this system are from different sources. Solute concentrations of conservative (i.e., nonreactive) elements in the coastal, sabkha-covered aquifer are consistent with the fluid pore volumes of ascending brine calculated from hydrologic properties. Calcium to sulfate ratios and sulfur isotopes are consistent with this source of solute from the underlying Tertiary formations. Recharging rainwater dissolves halite and other soluble minerals on the surface, causing the solution to become more dense and sink to the bottom of the aquifer where it vertically mixes with less dense ascending brines. Solutes are returned to the surface by capillary forces and recycled or lost from the system by eolian or fluvial processes. Thus, the system becomes vertically mixed, consistent with the presence of tritium throughout the aquifer; but there is essentially no horizontal mixing of seawater with groundwater. The observed seawater solutes in the supratidal zone come from interstitial seawater trapped by the rapid progradation of the sediments into the Arabian Gulf and are not refluxed or laterally mixed. The ascending-brine model contrasts significantly with both the seawater-flooding and evaporative-pumping models previously proposed as a source of solutes to the coastal sabkha of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi. Use of these earlier models leads to incorrect conclusions and raises serious questions about their applicability in the evaluation of sabkhat in the geologic record.
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Source of solutes to the coastal sabkha of Abu Dhabi