Articles | Volume 17, issue 1
Research article
31 Jan 2013
Research article |  | 31 Jan 2013

Assessing impacts of climate change, sea level rise, and drainage canals on saltwater intrusion to coastal aquifer

P. Rasmussen, T. O. Sonnenborg, G. Goncear, and K. Hinsby

Abstract. Groundwater abstraction from coastal aquifers is vulnerable to climate change and sea level rise because both may potentially impact saltwater intrusion and hence groundwater quality depending on the hydrogeological setting. In the present study the impacts of sea level rise and changes in groundwater recharge are quantified for an island located in the Western Baltic Sea. The low-lying central area of the investigated part of the island was extensively drained and reclaimed during the second half of the 19th century by a system of artificial drainage canals that significantly affects the flow dynamics of the area. The drinking water, mainly for summer cottages, is abstracted from 11 wells drilled to a depth of around 20 m into the upper 5–10 m of a confined chalk aquifer, and the total pumping is only 5–6% of the drainage pumping. Increasing chloride concentrations have been observed in several abstraction wells and in some cases the WHO drinking water standard has been exceeded. Using the modeling package MODFLOW/MT3D/SEAWAT the historical, present and future freshwater-sea water distribution is simulated. The model is calibrated against hydraulic head observations and validated against geochemical and geophysical data from new investigation wells, including borehole logs, and from an airborne transient electromagnetic survey. The impact of climate changes on saltwater intrusion is found to be sensitive to the boundary conditions of the investigated system. For the flux-controlled aquifer to the west of the drained area only changes in groundwater recharge impacts the freshwater–sea water interface whereas sea level rise does not result in increasing sea water intrusion. However, on the barrier islands to the east of the reclaimed area, below which the sea is hydraulically connected to the drainage canals, and the boundary of the flow system therefore controlled, the projected changes in sea level, groundwater recharge and stage of the drainage canals all have significant impacts on saltwater intrusion and the chloride concentrations found in abstraction wells.