Hydraulic exchange between overlying sea water and the internal structure of a patch reef in Kaneohe Bay, Oahu, Hawaii, was studied with an array of wells 1, 2, and 4 m deep. Two natural chemical tracers, radon, and salinity, were used to calculate the exchange rate between surface sea water and reef interstitial waters. Dissolved radon concentrations are substantially higher in interstitial waters than in surface water. The degree of radon enrichment is quantitatively related to the time elapsed since interstitial water had equilibrated with the atmosphere. Residence time estimates are 1-40 days, with deeper wells having slower exchange. The average residence time for 1-m-deep wells was 2.1 days. A rainstorm-induced dilution of the salinity of Kaneohe Bay provides the second tracer. Samples of surface and reef interstitial waters following this salinity perturbation are used to calculate an average residence time of 2.6 days at a depth of 1 m and 42 days at a depth of 2 m.
Three types of physical forces thought to cause exchange between surface and interstitial water are considered by measurement of the forcing functions and reef permeability. Hydraulic conductivities are about 50 m/d, with lower values near the seaward side of the reef. Most exchange seems to be caused by high-frequency, wave-driven oscillatory pumping and by unidirectional hydraulic head gradients (of uncertain origin) that are stable for at least 3-4 days. Wave-driven mixing is probably more important shallower in the reef, whereas head-driven flow may dominate deeper in the reef. Tidal pumping does not seem to contribute to exchange.
All methods indicate that exchange in the upper part of Checker Reef is primarily through vertical exchange. The best estimate for the residence time of water at a depth of 1 m is 2 days. Water at depths of 2-4 m probably has a residence time of weeks to months.