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  1. Coastal agricultural zones are experiencing salinization due to accelerating rates of sea-level rise, causing reduction in crop yields and abandonment of farmland. Understanding mechanisms and drivers of this seawater intrusion (SWI) is key to mitigating its effects and predicting future vulnerability of groundwater resources to salinization. We implemented a monitoring network of pressure and specific conductivity (SC) sensors in wells and surface waters to target marsh-adjacent agricultural areas in greater Dover, Delaware. Recorded water levels and SC over a period of three years show that the mechanisms and timescales of SWI are controlled by local hydrology, geomorphology, and geology. Monitored wells did not indicate widespread salinization of deep groundwater in the surficial aquifer. However, monitored surface water bodies and shallow (<4m deep) wells did show SC fluctuations due to tides and storm events, in one case leading to salinization of deeper (18m deep) groundwater. Seasonal peaks in SC occurred during late summer months. Seasonal and interannual variation of SC was also influenced by relative sea level. The data collected in this study data highlight the mechanisms by which surface water-groundwater connections lead to salinization of aquifers inland, before SWI is detected in deeper groundwater nearer the coastline. Sharing of our data with stakeholders has led to the implementation of SWI mitigation efforts, illustrating the importance of strategic monitoring and stakeholder engagement to support coastal resilience. 
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  2. Abstract. Ocean surges pose a global threat for coastal stability.These hazardous events alter flow conditions and pore pressures in floodedbeach areas during both inundation and subsequent retreat stages, which canmobilize beach material, potentially enhancing erosion significantly. Inthis study, the evolution of surge-induced pore-pressure gradients is studied through numerical hydrologic simulations of storm surges. The spatiotemporal variability of critically high gradients is analyzed in three dimensions. The analysis is based on a threshold value obtained for quicksand formationof beach materials under groundwater seepage. Simulations of surge eventsshow that, during the run-up stage, head gradients can rise to the calculated critical level landward of the advancing inundation line. During thereceding stage, critical gradients were simulated seaward of the retreatinginundation line. These gradients reach maximum magnitudes just as sea levelreturns to pre-surge levels and are most accentuated beneath the still-water shoreline, where the model surface changes slope. The gradients vary alongthe shore owing to variable beach morphology, with the largest gradientsseaward of intermediate-scale (1–3 m elevation) topographic elements (dunes)in the flood zone. These findings suggest that the common practices inmonitoring and mitigating surge-induced failures and erosion, which typically focus on the flattest areas of beaches, might need to be revised to include other topographic features. 
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  3. Abstract

    Coastal aquifers supply freshwater to nearly half the global population, yet they are threatened by salinization. Salinities are typically estimated assuming steady‐state, neglecting the effect of cyclical forcings on average salinity distributions. Here, numerical modeling is used to test this assumption. Multi‐scale fluctuations in sea level (SL) are simulated, from tides to glacial cycles. Results show that high‐frequency fluctuations alter average salinities compared with the steady‐state distribution produced by average SL. Low‐frequency forcing generates discrepancies between present‐day salinities estimated with and without considering the cyclical forcing due to overshoot effects. This implies that salinities in coastal aquifers may be erroneously estimated when assuming steady‐state conditions, since present distributions are likely part of a dynamic steady state that includes forcing on multiple timescales. Further, typically neglected aquifer storage characteristics can strongly control average salinity distributions. This has important implications for managing vulnerable coastal groundwater resources and for calibration of hydrogeological models.

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  4. Abstract

    Low‐elevation coastal areas are increasingly vulnerable to seawater flooding as sea levels rise and the frequency and intensity of large storms increase with climate change. Seawater flooding can lead to the salinization of fresh coastal aquifers by vertical saltwater intrusion (SWI). Vertical SWI is often overlooked in coastal zone threat assessments despite the risk it poses to critical freshwater resources and salt‐intolerant ecosystems that sustain coastal populations. This review synthesizes field and modeling approaches for investigating vertical SWI and the practical and theoretical understanding of salinization and flushing processes obtained from prior studies. The synthesis explores complex vertical SWI dynamics that are influenced by density‐dependent flow and oceanic, hydrologic, geologic, climatic, and anthropogenic forcings acting on coastal aquifers across spatial and temporal scales. Key knowledge gaps, management challenges, and research opportunities are identified to help advance our understanding of the vulnerability of fresh coastal groundwater. Past modeling studies often focus on idealized aquifer systems, and thus future work could consider more diverse geologic, climatic, and topographic environments. Concurrent field and modeling programs should be sustained over time to capture interactions between physical processes, repeated salinization and flushing events, and delayed aquifer responses. Finally, this review highlights the need for improved coordination and knowledge translation across disciplines (e.g., coastal engineering, hydrogeology, oceanography, social science) to gain a more holistic understanding of vertical SWI. There also needs to be more education of communities, policy makers, and managers to motivate societal action to address coastal groundwater vulnerability in a changing climate.

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  5. Abstract

    Tidal marshes are valuable global carbon sinks, yet large uncertainties in coastal marsh carbon budgets and mediating mechanisms limit our ability to estimate fluxes and predict feedbacks with global change. To improve mechanistic understanding, we assess how net carbon storage is influenced by interactions between crab activity, water movement, and biogeochemistry. We show that crab burrows enhance carbon loss from tidal marsh sediments by physical and chemical feedback processes. Burrows increase near-creek sediment permeability in the summer by an order of magnitude compared to the winter crab dormancy period, promoting carbon-rich fluid exchange between the marsh and creek. Burrows also enhance vertical exchange by increasing the depth of the strongly carbon-oxidizing zone and reducing the capacity for carbon sequestration. Results reveal the mechanism through which crab burrows mediate the movement of carbon through tidal wetlands and highlight the importance of considering burrowing activity when making budget projections across temporal and spatial scales.

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  6. Abstract

    Numerical models of variable‐density groundwater flow and salt transport are a primary tool for predicting salinity distributions in coastal aquifers and estimating submarine groundwater discharge (SGD). Models are particularly useful to estimate the saline component of SGD, which can occur far offshore and is difficult to measure directly. Depending on the system and application, the level of geologic detail represented can range from homogeneous or layered to fully heterogeneous hydraulic conductivity fields. These features strongly affect model results, limiting understanding of subsurface salinity distributions and associated density‐driven saltwater circulation along coasts worldwide. In this study, the impact of the scale of representation of heterogeneity on salinity distributions and SGD was investigated using numerical simulations. Upscaling hydraulic conductivity can significantly modify salinity distributions and flow paths, resulting in unpredictable variations in simulated SGD, though the values for homogeneous fields with equivalent hydraulic conductivity show consistent trends. Simulated density distributions control both the rate and direction of subsurface saltwater circulation. The length of the mixing zone perimeter, a measure of salinity distribution complexity, is shown to correlate with both the rate of subsurface saltwater circulation and the amount of groundwater circulating in the reverse direction from homogeneous cases. Overall, the results demonstrate a strong dependence of salinity distributions and saltwater circulation on the scale and distribution of geologic heterogeneity represented in numerical models. This suggests that numerical models with simplified geologic structure may substantially underestimate saltwater circulation, and attempts to calibrate them using salinity distributions or SGD measurements may be problematic.

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