Preventing Seawater Intrusion and Enhancing Safe Extraction Using Finite-Length, Impermeable Subsurface Barriers: 3D Analysis

Huiqiang Wu, Chunhui Lu, Jun Kong, Adrian D. Werner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Citations (Scopus)
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Subsurface physical barriers have been recognized as effective in mitigating seawater intrusion in coastal aquifers, although mainly 2D (cross-sectional) barrier effects have been considered. In this study, impermeable barriers with finite shore-parallel lengths are investigated through 3D numerical simulation, thereby extending previous analyses. Two scenarios are considered: (a) barrier-only and (b) barrier-well systems; and three available barrier types are analyzed and compared: (1) subsurface dam, (2) cutoff wall, and (3) fully penetrating barrier. Barrier location, length, and height are investigated, and barrier effectiveness is evaluated from seawater volumes, seawater wedge toe positions, and maximum safe pumping rates. In the barrier-only system, a better performance in preventing seawater intrusion was achieved by cutoff walls rather than subsurface dams. Finite-length subsurface dams may slightly enhance seawater extent along parts of the coastline that are beyond the dam's length. Cutoff walls performed best when located at relatively small distances from the coast in the barrier-only system, whereas with a well at 450 m from the shoreline, the subsurface dam located at a critical distance from the sea (i.e., 300 m in the current study) performed optimally (from the tested cases) and was superior to cutoff walls in terms of the maximum safe pumping rate. A fully penetrating barrier outperformed cutoff walls and subsurface dams, as expected. Our investigation indicates that subsurface barrier design should consider the effect of the shore-parallel length, because barrier benefits may otherwise be significantly overestimated.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere2020WR027792
Number of pages19
JournalWater Resources Research
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2020


  • coastal aquifer
  • cutoff wall
  • groundwater extraction
  • numerical modeling
  • subsurface dam
  • water resource management


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