Four-dimensional electrical resistivity imaging for monitoring pumping-induced saltwater intrusion in a coastal aquifer

Mark C. McDonnell*, Raymond Flynn, Jesús Fernández Águila, Gerard A. Hamill, Shane Donohue, Eric M. Benner, Christopher Thomson, Georgios Etsias, Thomas S.L. Rowan, Paul B. Wilkinson, Philip I. Meldrum

*Corresponding author for this work

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Conventional views of saltwater intrusion (SWI), where a basal saline wedge extends inland below fresh groundwater, can be complicated by the influence of saltwater cells in the upper part of aquifers in areas affected by tidal cycles. Distinguishing the contribution of each saltwater source may prove fundamental for well design and resource management. Application of time-lapse electrical resistivity imaging (ERI) during a 32-h pumping test in a pristine unconfined coastal sand aquifer, affected by strong tidal ranges (>2 m), aimed to evaluate the potential of the method to characterize the source of induced SWI in four dimensions (three dimensions and time). Water level monitoring during the test revealed that at the end of pumping, the upper 2 m of the aquifer had dewatered in the vicinity of the well field, reversing hydraulic gradients between the aquifer and the sea. This induced SI, with mixing models of well head water quality suggesting that saline water contributions to total discharge rose from 4 % to 8 %. ERI results reflected dewatering through an increase in resistivity in the upper 2-6 m of the aquifer, while a decline in resistivity, relative to background conditions, occurred immediately below this, reflecting the migration of saline water through the upper layers of the aquifer to the pumping well. By contrast no change in resistivity occurred at depth, indicating no significant change in contribution from the basal saline water to discharge. Test findings suggest that future water resource development at the site should focus on close monitoring of shallow pumping, or pumping from deeper parts of the aquifer, while more generally demonstrating the value of time-lapse geophysical methods in informing coastal water resource management.

Original languageEnglish
Article number161442
Number of pages12
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Early online date11 Jan 2023
Publication statusEarly online date - 11 Jan 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors would like to thank the Ministry of Defence staff at Magilligan Training Centre for site access and support. Tidal data used in this study are from the National Tidal and Sea Level Facility, provided by the British Oceanographic Data Centre and funded by the UK Environment Agency . This work was funded by EPSRC Standard Research (Grant No. EP/R019258/1 ).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 The Authors


  • Geophysics
  • Seawater Intrusion
  • Pumping Test
  • Coastal Water Resource Management

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution


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