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  1. Abstract

    Future increases in the frequency of tidal flooding due to sea level rise (SLR) are likely to affect pore water salinities in coastal aquifers. In this study, we investigate the impact of increased tidal flooding frequency on salinity and flow dynamics in coastal aquifers using numerical variable‐density variably‐saturated groundwater flow and salt transport models. Short (sub‐daily) and long (decadal) period tides are combined with SLR projections to drive continuous 80‐year models of flow and salt transport. Results show that encroaching intertidal zones lead to both periodic and long‐term vertical salinization of the upper aquifer. Salinization of the upper aquifer due to tidal flooding forces the lower interface seaward, even under SLR. System dynamics are controlled by the interplay between SLR and long period tidal forcing associated with perigean spring tides and the 18.6‐year lunar nodal cycle. Periodic tidal flooding substantially enhances intertidal saltwater‐freshwater mixing, resulting in a 6‐ to 10‐fold expansion of the intertidal saltwater‐freshwater mixing area across SLR scenarios. The onset of the expansion coincides with extreme high water levels resulting from lunar nodal cycling of tidal constituent amplitudes. The findings are the first to demonstrate the combined effects of gradual SLR and short and long period tides on aquifer salinity distributions, and reveal competing influences of SLR on saltwater intrusion. The results are likely to have important implications for coastal ocean chemical fluxes and groundwater resources as tidal flooding intensifies worldwide.

     
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