Vulnerability indicators of seawater intrusion

Adrian Werner, James D Ward, Leanne Morgan, Craig Simmons, Neville Robinson, Michael Teubner

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    142 Citations (Scopus)


    In this paper, simple indicators of the propensity for sea water intrusion (SWI) to occur (referred to as "SWI vulnerability indicators") are devised. The analysis is based on an existing analytical solution for the steady-state position of a sharp fresh water-salt water interface. Interface characteristics, that is, the wedge toe location and sea water volume, are used in quantifying SWI in both confined and unconfined aquifers. Rates-of-change (partial derivatives of the analytical solution) in the wedge toe or sea water volume are used to quantify the aquifer vulnerability to various stress situations, including (1) sea-level rise; (2) change in recharge (e.g., due to climate change); and (3) change in seaward discharge. A selection of coastal aquifer cases is used to apply the SWI vulnerability indicators, and the proposed methodology produces interpretations of SWI vulnerability that are broadly consistent with more comprehensive investigations. Several inferences regarding SWI vulnerability arise from the analysis, including: (1) sea-level rise impacts are more extensive in aquifers with head-controlled rather than flux-controlled inland boundaries, whereas the opposite is true for recharge change impacts; (2) sea-level rise does not induce SWI in constant-discharge confined aquifers; (3) SWI vulnerability varies depending on the causal factor, and therefore vulnerability composites are needed that differentiate vulnerability to such threats as sea-level rise, climate change, and changes in seaward groundwater discharge. We contend that the approach is an improvement over existing methods for characterizing SWI vulnerability, because the method has theoretical underpinnings and yet calculations are simple, although the coastal aquifer conceptualization is highly idealized.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)48-58
    Number of pages11
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - Jan 2012


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