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Factors determining the natural fresh-salt groundwater distribution in deltas
J. van Engelen
G.H.P. Oude Essink
Publication type | artikel (tijdschrift)
Most river deltas are densely populated areas with intensive agriculture. The increased shortage of fresh surface water that results from rising demands are expected to lead to increased groundwater pumping, which leads to sea water intrusion. To correctly project the future of fresh groundwater resources in deltas, knowing the current fresh‐salt groundwater distribution is a prerequisite. However, uncertainties about these distributions and their drivers are large. To understand these uncertainties, we conducted a global sensitivity analysis of a complex three‐dimensional variable‐density groundwater model of a synthetic delta, simulating the effect of the last glacial low stand and the subsequent marine transgression. The analysis is unique in its wide range of geometries, hydrogeological parameterizations and boundary conditions analyzed, making it representative for a large number of deltas worldwide. We find that the aquifer hydraulic conductivity is the most uncertain input and has a strong non‐monotonous effect on the total salt mass onshore. The calculated fresh‐salt groundwater distributions were classified into five classes and compared to real‐world case studies. We find that salinity inversions occur in deltaic systems with high representative system anisotropies as a remnant of a marine transgression. These salinity inversions were observed in half of the real‐world cases, indicating that their fresh‐salt groundwater distributions are not in a dynamic equilibrium. We conclude that it is very likely that past marine transgressions are still reflected in the current fresh‐salt groundwater distributions in deltas. This makes paleo‐groundwater modeling a prerequisite for effective simulation of present‐day groundwater salinity distributions in these systems.