H. Michael (UD Dept. of Geological Sciences), J. Bratton (U.S. Geological Survey), D. Krantz (Univ. of Toledo), L. Konikow (U.S. Geological Survey), K. Kroger (U.S. Geological Survey), and A.S. Andres
Student investigators: C. Russoniello, C. Fernandez, K. Myers, A. Musetto
Funded by National Science Foundation
Eutrophication is one of the most common and most severe problems facing coastal bays in
populated and agricultural areas. Unnaturally high quantities of nutrients enter fresh groundwater and surface water as a result of human activities. These nutrients contribute to the overpopulation of phytoplankton and macroalgae in coastal surface waters, which results in deterioration of water quality and animal habitat. This is a particular problem in the Delmarva region, where poultry farms, agricultural activity, and growing human populations have contributed to rapidly declining populations of blue crabs, striped bass, and many other species which live and breed in estuarine waters. The economic value of these species has, in part, prompted political action and efforts to manage nutrient inputs to groundwater and surface water, the primary pathways for nutrient loading to coastal waters. Despite significant reductions, coastal water quality has largely remained poor. A better understanding of the processes that moderate nutrient loading to coastal waters, particularly via groundwater, which is much more difficult to monitor than surface water inputs, is essential for improved management methods that will result in healthy coastal ecosystems. This project will improve understanding of where nutrients are coming from and how loading may be reduced, and may aid in identification of activities that exacerbate negative impacts.
To test our hypotheses, we will study the geology, hydrology, and geochemistry of the coastal groundwater flow system at Indian River Bay, Delaware. The overarching aim of the project is to characterize the controls of geologic heterogeneity and temporally variable hydraulic forcing on groundwater flow and fluid and chemical fluxes between aquifers and coastal surface water bodies. We seek to connect these controls to physical flow processes, to connect physical processes (flow rates, patterns, heterogeneity, and mixing) to geochemical transformations, and to combine these in order to better estimate fluxes of fluid and individual chemical species. The information obtained, though focused on a specific site, will improve the general understanding of freshwater-saltwater interaction and geochemistry of the subsurface, with implications for coastal systems worldwide.
Project staff have now drilled, logged, installed, and sampled 4 standard and 8 7-channel wells to depths of nearly 20 m below bottom in water depths up to 1.3 m and distances up to 225 m from the shore of Indian River Bay. CTD loggers have been installed in 2 standard wells.