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Title: Linking the Surface and Subsurface in River Deltas - Part 2: Relating Subsurface Geometry to Groundwater Flow Behavior
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Water resources research
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National Science Foundation
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  1. Abstract

    Understanding subsurface structure and groundwater flow in deltaic aquifers is essential for evaluating the vulnerability of groundwater resources in delta systems. Deltaic aquifers contain coarse‐grained paleochannels that preserve a record of former surface river channels as well as fine‐grained floodplain deposits. The distribution of these deposits and how they are interconnected control groundwater flow and contaminant transport. In this work, we link depositional environments of deltaic aquifers to stratigraphic (static) and flow and transport (dynamic) connectivity metrics. Numerical models of deltaic stratigraphy were generated using a reduced‐complexity numerical model (DeltaRCM) with different input sand fractions (ISF) and rates of sea‐level rise (SLR). The groundwater flow and advective transport behavior of these deltas were simulated using MODFLOW and MODPATH. By comparing the static and dynamic metrics calculated from these numerical models, we show that groundwater behavior can be predicted by particular aspects of the subsurface architecture, and that horizontal and vertical connectivity display different characteristics. We also evaluate relationships between connectivity metrics and two environmental controls on delta evolution: ISF and SLR rate. The results show that geologic setting strongly influences both static and dynamic connectivity in different directions. These results provide insights into quantitatively differentiated subsurface hydraulic behavior between deltas formed under different external forcing (ISF and SLR rate) and they are a potential link in using information from delta surface networks and depositional history to predict vulnerability to aquifer contamination.

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  2. Abstract

    River deltas are densely populated regions of the world with vulnerable groundwater reserves. Contamination of these groundwater aquifers via saline water intrusion and pollutant transport is a growing threat due to both anthropogenic and climate changes. The arrangement and composition of subsurface sediment is known to have a significant impact on aquifer contamination; however, developing accurate depictions of the subsurface is challenging. In this work, we explore the relationship between surface and subsurface properties and identify the metrics most sensitive to different forcing conditions. To do so, we simulate river delta evolution with the rule‐based numerical model, DeltaRCM, and test the influence of input sand fraction and steady sea level rise (SLR) on delta evolution. From the model outputs, we measure a variety of surface and subsurface metrics chosen based on their applicability to imagery and modeling results. The Kullback‐Leibler (KL) divergence is then used to quantitatively gauge which metrics are most indicative of the imposed forcings. Both qualitative observations and the KL divergence analysis suggest that estimates of subsurface connectivity can be constrained using surface information. In particular, more variable shoreline roughness values and higher surface wetted fraction values correspond to increased subsurface connectivity. These findings complement traditional methods of estimating subsurface structure in river‐dominated delta systems and represent a step toward the identification of a direct link between surface observations and subsurface form.

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