Groundwater salinization processes and reversibility of seawater intrusion in coastal carbonate aquifers

Dongmei Han, Vincent Post, Xianfang Song

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    39 Citations (Scopus)


    Seawater intrusion (SWI) has led to salinization of fresh groundwater reserves in coastal areas worldwide and has forced the closure of water supply wells. There is a paucity of well-documented studies that report on the reversal of SWI after the closure of a well field. This study presents data from the coastal carbonate aquifer in northeast China, where large-scale extraction has ceased since 2001 after salinization of the main well field. The physical flow and concomitant hydrogeochemical processes were investigated by analyzing water level and geochemical data, including major ion chemistry and stable water isotope data. Seasonal water table and salinity fluctuations, as well as changes of δ2H-δ18O values of groundwater between the wet and dry season, suggest local meteoric recharge with a pronounced seasonal regime. Historical monitoring testifies of the reversibility of SWI in the carbonate aquifer, as evidenced by a decrease of the Cl- concentrations in groundwater following restrictions on groundwater abstraction. This is attributed to the rapid flushing in this system where flow occurs preferentially along karst conduits, fractures and fault zones. The partially positive correlation between δ18O values and TDS concentrations of groundwater, as well as high NO3- concentrations (>39mg/L), suggest that irrigation return flow is a significant recharge component. Therefore, the present-day elevated salinities are more likely due to agricultural activities rather than SWI. Nevertheless, seawater mixing with fresh groundwater cannot be ruled out in particular where formerly intruded seawater may still reside in immobile zones of the carbonate aquifer. The massive expansion of fish farming in seawater ponds in the coastal zone poses a new risk of salinization. Cation exchange, carbonate dissolution, and fertilizer application are the dominant processes further modifying the groundwater composition, which is investigated quantitatively using hydrogeochemical models.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1067-1080
    Number of pages14
    JournalJournal of Hydrology
    Issue numberPart 3
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2015


    • Carbonate aquifer
    • China
    • Groundwater hydrochemistry
    • Hydrogeochemical modeling
    • Seawater intrusion


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