Effects of tidal fluctuations and spatial heterogeneity on mixing and spreading in spatially heterogeneous coastal aquifers

Maria Pool, Vincent E. A. Post, Craig T. Simmons

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    51 Citations (Scopus)


    We study the combined effect of heterogeneity in the hydraulic conductivity field and tidal oscillations on the three-dimensional dynamics of seawater intrusion in coastal aquifers. We focus on the quantification of its impact on solute mixing and spreading of the freshwater-seawater interface. Three-dimensional Monte Carlo realizations of log-normally distributed permeability fields were performed, and for each realization, numerical variable density flow and solute transport simulations were conducted. Mixing is characterized by the spatial moments of concentration. The enhanced solute mixing is quantified by an effective dispersion coefficient. The simulations show that heterogeneity produces an inland movement of the toe location along with a significant widening of the transition zone, which is linearly proportional to the product of the arithmetic mean of the correlation lengths in the three spatial dimensions (λa) and the permeability field variance (σlnk2). We find that once tidal oscillations are included, as the degree of heterogeneity increases, the combined effect of heterogeneity and tidal oscillations on mixing and spreading of the interface reduces. This is explained by the fact that an increase in the log-permeability variance induces an increase in both the effective permeability and the spatial connectivity, which implies a more uniform hydraulic response to tidal forcing and, as a result, the degree of mixing decreases. This study also identifies that the mixing behavior induced by tidal oscillations in heterogeneous coastal aquifers is controlled by the effective tidal mixing number (ntme) which depends on the amplitude, the period, the storativity, and the effective horizontal permeability.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1570-1585
    Number of pages16
    JournalWater Resources Research
    Issue number3
    Publication statusPublished - Mar 2015


    • heterogeneity
    • mixing-spreading of the transition zone
    • spatial moments
    • tidal oscillations


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