Submarine groundwater discharge (SGD) is an important conduit that links terrestrial and marine environments. SGD conveys both water and water-borne constituents into coastal waters, where these inflows may impact near-shore ecosystem health and sustainability. Multichannel electrical resistivity techniques have proven to be a powerful tool to examine scales and dynamics of SGD and SGD forcings. However, there are uncertainties both in data aquisition and data processing that must be addressed to maximize the effectiveness of this tool in estuarine or marine environments. These issues most often relate to discerning subtle nuances in the flow of electricity through variably saturated media that can also be highly conductive (i.e., seawater).
Three contrasting field sites were examined for this study to assess the effectiveness of electrical resistivity techniques in varying coastal settings by comparing resistivity data to direct salinity and resistivity observations, quantifying changes in lithology and beach geomorphology, and fine-tuning inversion protocols. The three study sites all have substantial (up to 85 cm day−1) submarine groundwater discharge rates, but the hydrologic, oceanographic, and geologic characteristics of the sites are all very different. At a site in Pelekane Bay on the Big Island of Hawaii, seasonal flooding introduces very high concentrations of fine to coarse sediment into the bay. Near-shore circulation is limited in Pelekane Bay, so this newly introduced sediment can become deposited in the bay where it accumulates over time. At a site in Hood Canal, a fjord within Puget Sound, Washington, SGD rates can be high because of the large tidal range, abundant recharge, and steep hydrologic gradients. At Younger Lagoon in northern California, the flow of groundwater towards the coast is much more parsimonious, but here marine processes, including recirculated seawater, are important in controlling the flow of material towards the coast.
Rigorous ground-truthing at each field site showed that multi-channel electrcial resistivity techniques can reproduce the scales and dynamics of a seepage field when such data are correctly collected, and when the model inversions are tuned to field site characteristics. Such information can provide a unique perspective on the scales and dynamics of exchange processes within a coastal aquifer—information essential to scientists and resource managers alike.