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A finite-difference computer model was used to analyze the effect of eustatic sea-level changes on the development of the transition zone between fresh ground water and underlying saltwater in the northern Atlantic Coastal Plain. The model simulates, in cross section, the sedimentary wedge from the Delaware River estuary in New Jersey to the Continental Slope. Simulated steady-state freshwater flow is separated from static saltwater by a sharp interface. The model was used to test the sensitivity of the simulated interface position to anisotropy as well as to sea-level elevation. Increasing anisotropy causes the interface to be shallower and extend farther offshore. Lowering sea level causes the interface to be deeper and to extend farther offshore. Simulations using hydraulic conductivities based on available data suggest that the transition zone is not in equilibrium with present sea level. The position of the transition zone probably reflects a long-term average sea level of between 50 and 100 ft below present sea level. The cyclic movement of salty ground water in response to sea-level fluctuations during the Quaternary and Late Tertiary caused the saltwater to mix with freshwater, thus producing a broad transition zone. The freshwater is predominantly sodium bicarbonate in character. The saltwater, from New Jersey to Virginia, probably is a sodium calcium chloride brine. In North Carolina, it is primarily seawater.
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Effect of eustatic sea-level changes on saltwater-freshwater relations in the Northern Atlantic Coastal Plain