The onshore influence of offshore fresh groundwater

Andrew Knight, Adrian Werner, Leanne Morgan

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25 Citations (Scopus)
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Freshwater contained within the submarine extensions of coastal aquifers is increasingly proposed as a freshwater source for coastal communities. However, the extent to which offshore freshwater supports onshore pumping is currently unknown on a global scale. This study provides the first attempt to examine the likely prevalence of situations where offshore freshwater influences onshore salinities, considering various sites from around the world. The groundwater conditions in twenty-seven confined and semi-confined coastal aquifers with plausible connections to inferred or observed offshore freshwater are explored. The investigation uses available onshore salinities and groundwater levels, and offshore salinity knowledge, in combination with analytical modelling, to develop simplified conceptual models of the study sites. Seven different conceptual models are proposed based on the freshwater-saltwater extent and insights gained from analytical modelling. We consider both present-day and pre-development conditions in assessing potential modern contributions to offshore fresh groundwater. Conceptual models also include interpretations of whether offshore freshwater is a significant factor influencing onshore salinities and well pumping sustainability. The results indicate that onshore water levels have declined between pre-development and present-day conditions in fourteen of the fifteen regions for which pre-development data are available. Estimates of the associated steady-state freshwater extents show the potential for considerable offshore fresh groundwater losses accompanying these declines. Both present-day and pre-development heads are insufficient to account for the observed offshore freshwater in all cases where adequate data exist. This suggests that paleo-freshwater and/or aquifer heterogeneities contribute significantly to offshore freshwater extent. Present-day heads indicate that active seawater intrusion (SWI) will eventually impact onshore pumping wells at fourteen of the twenty-seven sites, while passive SWI is expected onshore in an additional ten regions. Albeit the number of field sites is limited, there is sufficient evidence to indicate that when offshore freshwater has an onshore linkage, it is being mined either passively or actively by onshore use. Thus, offshore freshwater should be assessed in coastal water balances presuming that it serves as an existing freshwater input, rather than as a new potential freshwater resource.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)724-736
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Hydrology
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2018


  • Analytical modelling
  • Coastal aquifer
  • Offshore fresh groundwater
  • Saltwater intrusion


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