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Abstract

The marked climatic changes that occurred during the Late Quaternary and Holocene have had a significant impact on the evolution of the groundwater systems at and near the English coastline. Lowered sea levels and the emergence of a much larger landmass over most of the past 100 ka have also ensured deeper groundwater circulation in the vicinity of the modern coastline. The impacts on the Chalk and Lower Greensand (Albian) aquifers along the English Channel and North Sea coasts are examined, using mainly geochemical and isotopic evidence, especially from borehole depth profiles and interstitial waters.

Along the south coast, fresh groundwaters are found to depths of 250–300 m below OD (ordnance datum) in the Brighton–Worthing area, as well as beneath Poole Harbour, which are related to deeper circulation during lowered sea levels, controlled by the central palaeovalley of the English Channel. In contrast, pockets of saline groundwater are found, protected in east–west structures, which are considered to be little-modified Chalk formation waters. In the Albian sands, near Worthing, freshwaters dating to 7 ka bp are found at a depth of −450 m OD, suggesting that movement of groundwater towards the shoreline and possibly beyond is still occurring. The east–west structures also influence groundwater migration in north Kent, where fresh palaeowaters can be identified beneath saline water which invaded during the Holocene sea-level rise. In the East Midlands Sherwood Sandstone aquifer, freshwater is found to a depth of −500 m OD, showing continuous geochemical evolution probably over a period of 100 ka, although an ‘age gap’ of between c. 20 and 10 ka bp corresponds to permafrost cover. These palaeowaters in coastal and near-coastal areas remain effectively isolated from the active present-day meteoric flow system but represent high-value resources that may, in some cases, extend offshore.

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