Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
thesis_access.pdf (153.74 MB)

Coastal Groundwater Dynamics - Investigation of Using Geoelectrical and Hydrochemical Tools for Saline Intrusion Monitoring

Download (153.74 MB)
posted on 2021-11-23, 11:10 authored by Sutter, Eva Maria

With over 65 % of the global population currently living in areas near a coast, increasing fresh groundwater demands within these areas, shifted precipitation patterns, and rising mean sea levels, increased seawater intrusion into coastal aquifers has become a major issue for groundwater resources in many coastal countries all around the world. Although there are many past studies researching the saline interface in affected aquifers from a modelling, laboratory or field perspective with different hydrological and geophysical approaches, little is known about real field dynamics over various time spans and in different geological settings. This PhD project aims at detecting and characterising seawater intrusion into a shallow coastal Holocene sand and gravel aquifer at New Zealand's west coast with respect to seasonally changing aquifer resistivity and hydrochemical tracers, as well as investigating resistivity and hydraulic property changes within a tidal time frame. Seawater mixing behaviour over different time spans was monitored with electrical resistivity tomography (ERT) over the course of two years, and additional hydrochemical sampling was carried out during the second year of the long-term seawater intrusion monitoring study. During two consecutive years, repeat ERT measurements were able to determine seasonal and shorter-term cycles in seawater mixing behaviour within the shallow coastal aquifer. There are strong indications that increasing urbanisation has a major influence on seasonal seawater intrusion patterns, and the dominant processes at the field locations were identified to be tied to the amount of freshwater available over the course of a year, as well as enhanced evapotranspiration / evaporation during summer. Hydrochemical data backed these observations and were also able to characterise seawater intrusion as a function of depth at the field location. Within the smaller tidal cycle investigations, similarly behaving parts of the aquifer could be identified from resistivity ratios and time series analyses. Varying amplitudes in resistivity changes led to the conclusion that saline mixing within a diurnal tidal cycle is strongly dependent on the recharge regime of the aquifer and decreases significantly for times during the year when recharge is continuous as opposed to times with little general recharge but intense, isolated rainfall events. In addition, tidal time series were used to qualitatively infer hydraulic properties of the aquifer and ultimately delineate preferential flow paths for seawater intrusion at the field site. The results of this project support findings of previous modelling, laboratory and short-term field studies, and put the concepts into a much broader time frame. For the first time the dynamics of seawater mixing in a shallow coastal sand aquifer were conclusively studied at the same location and within different time frames, and are thus of great value for sustainable groundwater management in the area of investigation and similar coastal environments.


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License

Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline


Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code


Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Chemical and Physical Sciences


Ingham, Malcolm; Gouws, Gideon