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Pacific Coastal & Marine Science Center

Submarine Ground-water Discharge

Submarine Ground-water Discharge Diagram

Loxahatchee River Estuary Project


The distributions of dissolved organic carbon (DOC), Ba, U, and a suite of naturally occurring radionuclides in the U/Th decay series (222Rn, 223,224,226,228Ra) were studied during high and low discharge conditions in the Loxahatchee River estuary, Florida to examine the role of submarine groundwater discharge (SGD) in estuarine transport.

The fresh water endmember of this still relatively pristine estuary may reflect not only river-borne constituents, but also those advected during active groundwater/surface water (hyporheic) exchange. During both discharge conditions, Ba concentrations indicated slight non-conservative mixing. Such Ba excesses could be attributed either to submarine groundwater discharge or particle desorption processes. Estuarine dissolved organic carbon concentrations were highest at salinities closest to zero. Uranium distributions were lowest in the fresh water sites and mixed mostly conservatively with an increase in salinity. Suspended particulate matter (SPM) concentrations were generally lowest (<5 mg/L) close to zero salinity and increased several-fold (~18 mg/L; low discharge) toward the seaward endmember, which may be attributed to dynamic resuspension of bottom sediments within Jupiter Inlet.

Location map of sampling sites in the Loxahatchee River Estuary
Figure 1. Location map of sampling sites in the Loxahatchee River Estuary.

Photograph of the cypress forest in the Loxahatchee River Estuary.
Figure 2. Cypress forest in the
Loxahatchee River Estuary.
Photograph of the mangrove forest in the Loxahatchee River Estuary.
Figure 3. Mangrove forest in the
Loxahatchee River Estuary.

Surface water-column 222Rn activities were most elevated (>28 dpm/L) at the freshwater endmember of the estuary and appear to identify regions of the river most influenced by the discharge of fresh groundwater. Activities of four naturally occurring isotopes of Ra (223,224,226,228Ra) in this estuary and select adjacent shallow groundwater wells yield mean estuarine water-mass transit times of less than 1 day; these values are in close agreement to those calculated by tidal prism and tidal frequency. Submarine groundwater discharge rates to the Loxahatchee River estuary were calculated using a tidal prism approach, an excess 226Ra mass balance, and an electromagnetic seepage meter.

Average SGD rates ranged from 1.0 to 3.8×105 m3/d (20-74 L/m2d), depending on river-discharge stage. Such calculated SGD estimates, which must include both a recirculated as well as fresh water component, are in close agreement with results obtained from a first-order watershed mass balance. Average submarine groundwater discharge rates yield NH4+ and PO4-3 flux estimates to the Loxahatchee River estuary that range from 62.7 to 1063.1 and 69.2 to 378.5 µmol/m2d, respectively, depending on river stage. SGD-derived nutrient flux rates are compared to yearly computed riverine total N and total P load estimates.


  • All three SGD methods (tidal prism, Ra, EM seepage meter) provide internally consistent results
  • Near continuous 222Rn results confirm that most groundwater discharges upstream
  • Streaming resistivity profiling results provide information as to the position/extent of the freshwater/saltwater interface
  • Role of SGD in estuarine biogeochemical transport is investigated (for example, SPM, U, DOC, Ba)

Selected References

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


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