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Groundwater level observations in 250,000 coastal US wells reveal scope of potential seawater intrusion.

  • Author(s): Jasechko, Scott
  • Perrone, Debra
  • Seybold, Hansjörg
  • Fan, Ying
  • Kirchner, James W
  • et al.

Seawater intrusion into coastal aquifers can increase groundwater salinity beyond potable levels, endangering access to freshwater for millions of people. Seawater intrusion is particularly likely where water tables lie below sea level, but can also arise from groundwater pumping in some coastal aquifers with water tables above sea level. Nevertheless, no nation-wide, observation-based assessment of the scope of potential seawater intrusion exists. Here we compile and analyze ~250,000 coastal groundwater-level observations made since the year 2000 in the contiguous United States. We show that the majority of observed groundwater levels lie below sea level along more than 15% of the contiguous coastline. We conclude that landward hydraulic gradients characterize a substantial fraction of the East Coast (>18%) and Gulf Coast (>17%), and also parts of the West Coast where groundwater pumping is high. Sea level rise, coastal land subsidence, and increasing water demands will exacerbate the threat of seawater intrusion.

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