Articles | Volume 16, issue 3
Research article
07 Mar 2012
Research article |  | 07 Mar 2012

A combined field and modeling study of groundwater flow in a tidal marsh

Y. Q. Xia and H. L. Li

Abstract. Bald mud beaches were found among the mangrove marshes in Dongzhaigang National Nature Reserve, Hainan, China. To investigate the possible reasons for this phenomenon, the intertidal zones of a mangrove transect and a bald beach transect with similar topography and tidal actions were selected for comparison study. Along both transects, observed water table variations were significant in the high and low intertidal zones and negligible in the middle intertidal zones. Despite the same tidal actions and above-mentioned similarities, observed groundwater salinity was significantly smaller along the mangrove transect (average 23.0 ppt) than along the bald beach transect (average 28.5 ppt). These observations invite one hypothesis: the hydraulic structure of tidal marsh and freshwater availability may be the main hydrogeological factors critical to mangrove development. Two-dimensional numerical simulations corroborated the speculation and gave results in line with the observed water table. The two transects investigated were found to have a mud-sand two-layered structure: a surface zone of low-permeability mud and an underlying high-permeability zone that outcrops at the high and low tide lines. The freshwater recharge from inland is considerable along the mangrove transect but negligible along the bald beach transect. The high-permeability zone may provide opportunity for the plants in the mangrove marsh to uptake freshwater and oxygen through their roots extending downward into the high-permeability zone, which may help limit the buildup of salt in the root zone caused by evapotranspiration and enhance salt removal, which may further increase the production of marsh grasses and influence their spatial distribution. The bald beach is most probably due to the lack of enough freshwater for generating a brackish beach soil condition essential to mangrove growth. It is also indicated that seawater infiltrated the high-permeability zone through its outcrop near the high intertidal zone, and discharged from the tidal river bank in the vicinity of the low tide line. These processes thereby formed a tide-induced seawater-groundwater circulation, which likely provided considerable contribution to the total submarine groundwater discharge (SGD). Finally, implications and uncertainties behind this study were summarized for future examinations.