skip to main content

Title: Groundwater Flow and Moisture Dynamics in the Swash Zone: Effects of Heterogeneous Hydraulic Conductivity and Capillarity

A density‐dependent, variably saturated groundwater flow and solute transport model was used to investigate the influence of swash motions on subsurface flow and moisture dynamics in beach aquifers with heterogeneous distributions of hydraulic conductivity (K) and capillarity. The numerical simulations were performed within a Monte Carlo framework using field measurements conducted in the swash zone of a sandy beach. Our results show that heterogeneous capillarity causes spatially variable capillary rise above the groundwater table. In response to swash motions, heterogeneity creates capillary barriers that result in pockets of elevated moisture content beneath the swash zone. These moisture hotspots persist within the unsaturated zone even at ebb tide when the swash motions recede seaward. Heterogeneous capillarity also results in highly tortuous preferential flow paths and alters the flow rates from the sand surface to the water table. HeterogeneousKgreatly enhances the seawater infiltration into the swash zone and modulates its spatial distribution along the beach surface. Due to heterogeneousKand capillarity, complex mixing patterns emerge. Both strain‐dominated and vorticity‐dominated flow regions develop and dissipate as tides and waves move across the beach surface. Complex mixing patterns of seawater percolating from the swash zone surface to the water table, with localized areas of high and low mixing intensities, are further demonstrated by analysis of dilution index. Our findings reveal the influence of geologic heterogeneity on swash zone moisture and flow dynamics, which may have important implications for sediment transport and chemical processing in beach aquifers.

more » « less
Author(s) / Creator(s):
 ;  ;  ;  ;  
Publisher / Repository:
DOI PREFIX: 10.1029
Date Published:
Journal Name:
Water Resources Research
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. Abstract

    Intertidal aquifers are hotspots of biogeochemical cycling where nutrients and contaminants are processed prior to discharge to the ocean. The nature of the dynamic subsurface mixing zone is a critical control on mitigating reactions. Simulation of density‐dependent, variably saturated flow and salt transport incorporating realistic representations of aquifer heterogeneity was conducted within a Monte Carlo framework to investigate influence of nonuniform permeability on intertidal groundwater flow and salt transport dynamics. Results show that heterogeneity coupled with tides creates transient preferential flow paths within the intertidal zone, evolving multiple circulation cells and fingering‐type salinity distributions. Due to heterogeneity, strain‐dominated (intense mixing) and vorticity‐dominated (low mixing) flow regions coexist at small spatial scales, and their spatial extent reaches peaks at high tide and low tide. Such topological characteristics reveal complex tempo‐spatial mixing patterns for intertidal flow with localized areas of high and low mixing intensities, which have implications for intertidal biogeochemical processing.

    more » « less
  2. Abstract

    Biogeochemical reactions within intertidal zones of coastal aquifers have been shown to alter the concentrations of terrestrial solutes prior to their discharge to surface waters. In organic‐poor sandy aquifers, the input of marine organic matter from infiltrating seawater supports active biogeochemical reactions within the sediments. However, while the seasonality of surface water organic carbon concentrations (primary production) and groundwater mixing have been documented, there is limited understanding of the transience of various organic carbon pools (pore water particulate, dissolved, sedimentary) within the aquifer and how these relate to the location and magnitudes of biogeochemical reactions over time. To understand the relationship between changes in groundwater flow and the seasonal migration of geochemical patterns, beach pore water and sediment samples were collected and analyzed from six field sampling events spanning 2 years. While the seasonally dynamic patterns of aerobic respiration closely followed those of salinity, redox conditions and nutrient characteristics (distributions of N and P, denitrification rates) were unrelated to contemporaneous salinity patterns. This divergence was attributed to the spatial variations of reactive particulate organic carbon distributions, unrelated to salinity patterns, likely due to filtration, retardation, and immobilization dynamics during transport within the sediments. Results support a “carbon memory” effect within the beach, with the evolution and migration of reaction patterns relating to the distribution of these scattered carbon pools as more mobile solutes move over less mobile pools during changes in hydrologic conditions. This holds important implications for the prediction and quantification of biogeochemical reactions within beach systems.

    more » « less
  3. Abstract

    During a storm, as the beach profile is impacted by increased wave forcing and rapidly changing water levels, sand berms may help mitigate erosion of the backshore. However, the mechanics of berm morphodynamics have not been fully described. In this study, 26 trials were conducted in a large wave flume to explore the response of a near‐prototype berm to scaled storm conditions. Sensors were used to quantify hydrodynamics, sheet flow dynamics, and berm evolution. Results indicate that berm overtopping and offshore sediment transport were key processes causing berm erosion. During the morphological evolution of the beach profile, two sand bars were formed offshore that attenuated subsequent wave energy. The landward extent of that energy was confined to the seaward foreshore, inhibiting inundation of the backshore. Net offshore‐directed transport was dominant when infragravity motions increased in the swash zone. Conversely, the influence of incident‐band motions on sediment transport was relatively greater in the inner‐surf zone. Near‐bed flow velocities and sheet flow layer thicknesses were larger in the swash zone than in the inner‐surf zone. This paper also provides a valuable analysis between morphology‐estimated total sediment transport rates and rates derived from in situ measurements. Sheet flow dynamics dominated foreshore cross‐shore sediment processes, constituting the largest portion of the total sediment transport load throughout the berm erosion.

    more » « less
  4. Abstract

    Nitrous oxide (N2O) is a potent ozone‐depleting greenhouse gas produced by incomplete denitrification. Recent works on riverine N2O emissions focus mainly on contributions from in‐channel, benthic, and fluvial hyporheic environments under assumptions of steady‐state conditions and homogeneous sediment hydraulic conductivity (K). However, riparian floodplains are also a potentially important N2O source characterized by complex sediment heterogeneity and dynamic surface and groundwater interactions. We use numerical flow and reactive transport models to investigate the influence of complex sedimentary architecture and high‐flow events (e.g., storms) on N2O production. We interpret the correlation between flow and solute fields with the flow topological Okubo‐Weiss metric (OW) and the scalar dissipation rate weighted by soil organic matter (OM) fraction and soil saturation. We model a heterogeneous riparian floodplain based on field observations from the Theis Environmental Monitoring and Modeling Site, Ohio, USA. N2O production is greatest within intermediate‐Ksediments (e.g., sands) where denitrification rates are highest, and emissions increase by more than an order of magnitude during storms. Sensitivity analysis reveals that the denitrification rate is most influential for N2O flux, accounting for nearly 46% of the variance in production rates. Denitrification rates adapt to spatial changes in the flow topology (measured by OW) related to sediment heterogeneity and are strongly influenced by subsurface mixing dynamics. Mixing is greatest in shear strain‐dominated regions, while vorticity promotes OM dissolution and prolongs residence times. Accurate lithologic representation is imperative for characterizing subsurface N2O production dynamics, especially given growing concern regarding climate change driven hydrologic changes within watersheds worldwide.

    more » « less
  5. Abstract

    Erosive beach scarps influence beach vulnerability, yet their formation remains challenging to predict. In this study, a 1:2.5 scale laboratory experiment was used to study the subsurface hydrodynamics of a beach dune during an erosive event. Pressure and moisture sensors buried within the dune were used both to monitor the water table and to examine vertical pressure gradients in the upper 0.3 m of sand as the slope of the upper beach developed into a scarp. Concurrently, a line‐scan lidar tracked swash bores and monitored erosion and accretion patterns along a single cross‐shore transect throughout the experiment. As wave conditions intensified, a discontinuity in the slope of the dune formed; the discontinuity grew steeper and progressed landward at the same rate as theR2%runup extent until it was a fully formed scarp with a vertical face. Within the upper 0.15 m of the partially saturated sand, upward pore pressure gradients were detected during backwash, influencing the effective weight of sand and potentially contributing to beachface erosion. The magnitude and frequency of the upward pressure gradients increased with deeper swash depths and with frequency of wave interaction, and decreased with depth into the sand. A simple conceptual model for scarp formation is proposed that incorporates observations of upward‐directed pressure gradients from this study while providing a reference for future studies seeking to integrate additional swash zone sediment transport processes that may impact scarp development.

    more » « less