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Imaging Saltwater Intrusion Using Electrical Resistivity Tomography

The Problem

Saltwater intrusion is the process by which saltwater migrates into a portion of a coastal aquifer that previously contained freshwater, often as a result of anthropogenic changes such as increased groundwater pumping or diversion of recharge sources.  Saltwater intrusion can have significant economical and ecological impacts, and therefore it is a critical issue to investigate and manage. Traditionally intrusion is mapped and monitored using wells, which provide point information and can be spatially disparate, meaning they may fail to capture the extent of complexity of intrusion. Because of this there is a need for additional cost effective methods of locating regions of intrusion.

The Location

Along the coast of the Monterey Bay in California, groundwater is the primary source of freshwater (up to 99% in Monterey County), and supports a multi-billion dollar agricultural industry. Groundwater extraction over the past century has resulted in significant saltwater intrusion along the coast.

The Approach

We are using the geophysical method of Electrical Resistivity Tomography (ERT) to accomplish this. This method results in continuous profiles of electrical resistivity with depth, and because of the large contrast in the resistivity of freshwater saturated sediments and saltwater saturated sediments, is ideally suited to mapping out intrusion in coastal aquifers.

Results to Date

2012 Pilot Study:

In 2012, ERT was acquired data along a 7 km segment of beach between Seaside, CA and Marina, CA. The results from this acquisition, shown in the figure below, both demonstrated the viability of this geophysical technology for this application, and clearly showed the value of the geophysical imaging for understanding the geologic controls on the distribution of salt water and fresh water from ground surface to 150 m. The success of the 2012 pilot study motivated collection of ERT data along the whole length of the bay.

2014 Full Scale Study:

In 2014, 40 km of ERT data were collected along the Monterey Bay coast.  Inversion of these data resulted in resistivity sections with reliable results to a depth of approximately 300 m.b.s.l. These data show a complex distribution of fresh and salt water, influenced by geology, groundwater pumping, recharge, and land-use.  Interpretation of the resistivity sections in conjunction with existing data sets and understanding of the region, allows us to identify the factors controlling the observed resistivity along the coast.

Interactive Viewer:

Use the interactive viewer below to view the 2014 inverted ERT data in 3D. Click the squares at the bottom to move to predetermined views of interest, or move and zoom through the data on your own. Open the tab on the left, and turn on an off additional data layers, including well logs, faults, and rivers.

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