A study was conducted to establish a detailed hydrogeologic framework in the complex Floridan aquifer system of southwestern Florida, and to evaluate and relate the distribution of salinity found in this system. The Floridan aquifer system consists of the Upper Floridan aquifer, middle confining unit, and Lower Floridan aquifer. The Upper Floridan aquifer extends into a basal unit of the Hawthorn Group; however, a regional unconformity present at the base of this unit generally marks the top of the Floridan aquifer system, as it does in the rest of southern Florida. The basal Hawthorn unit, which is defined at its top by a correlative marker unit, ranges in thickness from 120 to 460 feet. Paleotopography present prior to deposition of the basal Hawthorn unit, which resulted at least in part from erosion, is believed to have caused some of this variation in thickness. However, in some areas where the basal Hawthorn unit is thick, particularly in Lee County, depositional buildup created paleotopographic highs at the top of the unit. In these areas, permeable limestone zones are present in the unit, giving the unit a high transmissivity.
In most of the study area, the Floridan aquifer system can be divided into a brackish-water zone, a salinity transition zone, and a saline-water zone. The brackish-water zone contains water with a dissolved-solids concentration of less than 10,000 milligrams per liter. The saline-water zone has a dissolved-solids concentration of at least 35,000 milligrams per liter and a salinity similar to that of seawater. The salinity transition zone that separates these two zones is usually 150 feet or less in thickness. The altitude of the base of the brackish-water zone was mapped primarily using geophysical logs; it ranges from as shallow as 565 feet below sea level along the coast to almost 2,200 feet below sea level inland. This mapping indicated that the boundary represents a salinity interface, the depth of which is controlled by head in the brackish-water zone.
Chloride concentrations in the upper part of the brackish-water zone range from 400 to 4,000 milligrams per liter. A large area of relatively low salinity in north-central Collier County and to the northwest, as defined by a 1,200-milligram-per-liter chloride-concentration line, coincides with a high area on the basal contact of the Hawthorn Group. As this contact dips away from this high area to central Hendry and southwestern Collier Counties, chloride concentration increases to 2,000 milligrams per liter or greater. However, the increase in salinity in these areas occurs only in the basal Hawthorn unit or Suwannee Limestone, but not in deeper units. In central Hendry County, the increase occurs only in the basal Hawthorn unit in an area where the unit is well developed and thick. These areas of higher salinity could have resulted from the influx of seawater from southwestern Collier County into zones of higher permeability in the Upper Floridan aquifer during high sea-level stands. The influx may only have occurred in structurally low areas and may have experienced incomplete flushing subsequently by the modern freshwater flow system.
In an area in north-central Collier County, the altitude of the base of the brackish-water zone is anomalously deep given the position of this area relative to the coast. In this area, the base extends as deep as 2,090 feet below sea level, and the salinity transition zone is not present or is poorly defined. The origin of this anomalous area is interpreted to be related to the development of a unit containing thick dolomite and evaporite beds high in the middle confining unit of the Floridan aquifer system. The top of this dolomite-evaporite unit, which probably has very low permeability, occurs at the base of the brackish-water zone in this area. The axis of a high area mapped at the top of the unit trends to the northwest from central Collier County into north-central Lee County. This axis parallels and lies just to the west of the anomalous area, and it could have acted as an impermeable sill, preventing saline water from moving in laterally from the coast to the southwest and up from the Lower Floridan aquifer. Locating a Floridan aquifer system well field in or near this anomalous area could be optimal because of the lack of a salinity interface at depth.