Articles | Volume 19, issue 2
Research article
16 Feb 2015
Research article |  | 16 Feb 2015

From days to decades: numerical modelling of freshwater lens response to climate change stressors on small low-lying islands

S. Holding and D. M. Allen

Abstract. Freshwater lenses on small islands are vulnerable to many climate change-related stressors, which can act over relatively long time periods, on the order of decades (e.g., sea level rise, changes in recharge), or short time periods, such as days (storm surge overwash). This study evaluates the response of the freshwater lens on a small low-lying island to various stressors. To account for the varying temporal and spatial scales of the stressors, two different density-dependent flow and solute transport codes are used: SEAWAT (saturated) and HydroGeoSphere (unsaturated/saturated). The study site is Andros Island in the Bahamas, which is characteristic of other low-lying carbonate islands in the Caribbean and Pacific regions. In addition to projected sea level rise and reduced recharge under future climate change, Andros Island experienced a storm surge overwash event during Hurricane Francis in 2004, which contaminated the main wellfield. Simulations of reduced recharge result in a greater loss of freshwater lens volume (up to 19%), while sea level rise contributes a lower volume loss (up to 5%) due to the flux-controlled conceptualization of Andros Island, which limits the impact of sea level rise. Reduced recharge and sea level rise were simulated as incremental instantaneous shifts. The lens responds relatively quickly to these stressors, within 0.5 to 3 years, with response time increasing as the magnitude of the stressor increases. Simulations of the storm surge overwash indicate that the freshwater lens recovers over time; however, prompt remedial action can restore the lens to potable concentrations up to 1 month sooner.

Short summary
Freshwater lenses are vulnerable to many climate change stressors that act over varying spatial and temporal scales. This study evaluates the spatial and temporal response of a freshwater lens to short- and long-acting climate stressors using a numerical modeling approach. The results identify critical factors affecting the freshwater lens response for a typical small, low-lying island setting, as well as the effectiveness of remedial options in improving lens recovery.