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Pacific Coastal & Marine Science Center

Submarine Ground-water Discharge

Submarine Ground-water Discharge Diagram

Investigating Submarine Groundwater Discharge Into Florida Bay Using in situ 222Rn and Streaming Resistivity Profiling Surveys


Submarine groundwater discharge (SGD) is an important factor in the water budget of Florida Bay and can play an important role in the delivery and transformations of groundwater borne chemical constituents. It is likely that a large component of SGD in Florida Bay is not fresh groundwater, but recycled seawater.  However, SGD discharge rates are not clear; current estimates of total (fresh + saline groundwater) SGD into Florida Bay vary widely (1-40 cm/day), depending on which particular geochemical tracer has been used, and if physical seepage meters were deployed to evaluate SGD exchange rates (Corbett et al., 1999; Top et al., 2001).  SGD rates into Florida Bay are likely controlled in part by tidally-driven water level fluctuations across the Florida Keys – the effects of which are dampened towards the northern fringe of the bay.  In this region, the fresh water/saltwater interface reflects a quasi-equilibrium between surface and subsurface fresh water run off and saline bay water interactions. 

It has been shown repeatedly (for example, Burnett et al., 2001; Burnett and Dulaiova, 2003), that these in situ techniques are accurate and precise when compared to standard but laborious emanation techniques.  The high temporal resolution of the radon measurements provides the ability to examine regional scale Rn SGD signatures.  Previous results have shown that SGD inputs are often not in steady state but change on tidal, seasonal, and likely climatic time scales. 

Objectives and Scope

The primary objective of this study is to map the 222Rn distribution in surface waters of northern FLorida Bay and to conduct concurrent streaming resistivity profiling surveys (SRP).  Such resistivity data will provide unprecedented information of the fresh water / salt water interface to depths of 10’s of meters.  The Rn-222 data will identify sites of enhanced fluid exchange across the sediment / water interface where submarine ground water discharge rates can be estimated.

The project team will map the temporal and spatial patterns of 222Rn during wet and dry conditions using multiple automated radon detectors (RAD7 – Durridge, Co., Inc.) as a proxy for submarine ground water discharge.  A small subset of existing wells in Florida Bay will also be sampled during our bi-yearly effort for salinity and 222Rn to: 1) ground-truth the resistivity measurements, and 2) for developing radon mass budgets and Rn SGD fluxes.  At a minimum, two wells (one deep and one shallow) will be sampled.  Fieldwork will be coordinated with existing in situ SFWMD data collection efforts, if feasible.  The data collection will focus on the northern fringe of Florida Bay as recommended by our SFWMD collaborator (D. Rudnick). 

To address the spatial coverage necessary, two individual boat surveys will be conducted; one in the dry season and one in the wet season.  The geochemical and geophysical equipment will be connected to data loggers with GPS, a CTD meter and depth information that will continuously log data while the boat is moving. 

Florida bay study area
Study area map for submarine groundwater discharge project in Florida Bay.

Select References

Burnett, W., Kim, G., Lane-Smith, D. (2001), A continuous monitor for assessment of 222Rn in the coastal ocean. Journal of Radioanalytical and Nuclear Chemistry. Volume 249, Number 1, pp. 167–172. doi:10.1023/A:1013217821419

Burnett, W.C., Dulaiova, H. (2003), Estimating the dynamics of groundwater input into the coastal zone via continuous radon-222 measurements. J. Environ. Radio. 69, 21-35.

Cable, J. E., W. C. Burnett, J. P. Chanton, and G. L. Weatherly (1996), Estimating groundwater discharge into the northeastern Gulf of Mexico using radon-222. Earth and Planetary Science Letters 144 (1996) 591-604.

Corbett, D.R., Chanton, J., Burnett, W., Dillon, K., Rutkowski, C., Fourqurean, J. (1999), Patterns of groundwater discharge into Florida Bay . Limnol. Oceanogr. 44, 973-1185.

Corbett, D.R., Dillon, K., Burnett, W.C., Chanton, J.P., (2000), Estimating the groundwater contribution into Florida Bay via natural tracers, 222Rn and CH4. Limnol. Oceanogr. 45, 1546-1557.

Swarzenski, P.W., W.G. Orem, B.F. McPherson, M. Baskaran, and Y. Wan (2006), Biogeochemical transport in the Loxahatchee river estuary: The role of submarine groundwater discharge. Marine Chemistry, 101, pp. 248-265. doi:10.1016/j.marchem.2006.03.007

Swarzenski, PW, Reich, C. and Rudnick, D. (2009), Examining submarine groundwater discharge into Florida Bay using 222Rn and marine resistivity. USGS Open File Report 2008-1342

Top Z, Brand LE, Corbett RD , Burnett W, Chanton J (2001), Helium and radon as tracers of groundwater input into Florida Bay . J Coast Res 17:859-868


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