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Groundwater discharge to coastal streams – A significant pathway for nitrogen inputs to a hypertrophic Mediterranean coastal lagoon

David, Marine, Bailly-Comte, Vincent, Munaron, Dominique, Fiandrino, Annie, Stieglitz, Thomas C.
The Science of the total environment 2019 v.677 pp. 142-155
alluvial aquifer, coastal water, coasts, dissolved inorganic nitrogen, ecosystems, groundwater, hydrograph, hydrologic cycle, nitrogen, radon, rivers, streams, water flow, watersheds
Near-shore and direct groundwater inputs are frequently omitted from nutrient budgets of coastal lagoons. This study investigated groundwater-driven dissolved inorganic nitrogen (DIN) inputs from an alluvial aquifer to the hypertrophic Or lagoon, with a focus on the Salaison River. Piezometric contours revealed that the Salaison hydrogeological catchment is 42% bigger than the surface watershed and hydraulic gradients suggest significant groundwater discharge all along the stream. Hydrograph separation of the water flow at a gauging station located 3 km upstream from the Or lagoon combined with DIN historical data enabled to estimate that groundwater-driven DIN inputs account for 81–87% of the annual total DIN inputs to the stream upstream from the gauging station. A radon mass balance was performed for the hydrological cycle 2017–2018 to estimate groundwater inflow into the downstream part of the stream. Results showed that (1) DIN fluxes increased by a factor 1.1 to 2.3 between the gauging station and the Salaison outlet, (2) the increase in DIN was due to two groundwater-fed canals and to groundwater discharge along the stream, the latter represented 63–78% of the water flow. This study thus highlights the significance of groundwater driven DIN inputs into the Salaison River, which account for 90% of the annual DIN inputs. This is particularly true in the downstream part of the river, which, on averages, supplies 48% of total DIN inputs to the river. These downstream DIN inputs into the Or lagoon were previously not taken into account in the management of this and other Mediterranean lagoons. The inputs will probably affect restoration processes for many years due to their residence time in the aquifer. This study throws light on a rarely documented source of ‘very-nearshore’ groundwater discharge to coastal streams in water and nutrient budgets of coastal zone ecosystems.