Impacts of sea-level rise and urbanization on groundwater availability and sustainability of coastal communities in semi-arid South Texas

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Abstract

The sea levels along the semi-arid South Texas coast are noted to have risen by 3-5 mm/year over the last five decades. Data from General Circulation Models (GCMs) indicate that this trend will continue in the 21st century with projected sea level rise in the order of 1.8-5.9 mm/year due to the melting of glaciers and thermal ocean expansion. Furthermore, the temperature in South Texas is projected to increase by as much as 4 °C by the end of the 21st century creating a greater stress on scarce water resources of the region. Increased groundwater use hinterland due to urbanization as well as rising sea levels due to climate change impact the freshwater-saltwater interface in coastal aquifers and threaten the sustainability of coastal communities that primarily rely on groundwater resources. The primary goal of this study was to develop an integrated decision support framework to assist land and water planners in coastal communities to assess the impacts of climate change and urbanization. More specifically, the developed system was used to address whether coastal side (primarily controlled by climate change) or landward side processes (controlled by both climate change and urbanization) had a greater control on the saltwater intrusion phenomenon. The decision support system integrates a sharp-interface model with information from GCMs and observed data and couples them to statistical and information-theoretic uncertainty analysis techniques. The developed decision support system is applied to study saltwater intrusion characteristics at a small coastal community near Corpus Christi, TX. The intrusion characteristics under various plausible climate and urbanization scenarios were evaluated with consideration given to uncertainty and variability of hydrogeologic parameters. The results of the study indicate that low levels of climate change have a greater impact on the freshwater-saltwater interface when the level of urbanization is low. However, the rate of inward intrusion of the saltwater wedge is controlled more so by urbanization effects than climate change. On a local (near coast) scale, the freshwater-saltwater interface was affected by groundwater production locations more so than the volume produced by the community. On a regional-scale, the sea level rise at the coast was noted to have limited impact on saltwater intrusion which was primarily controlled by freshwater influx from the hinterlands towards the coast. These results indicate that coastal communities must work proactively with planners from the up-dip areas to ensure adequate freshwater flows to the coast. Field monitoring of this parameter is clearly warranted. The concordance analysis indicated that input parameter sensitivity did not change across modeled scenarios indicating that future data collection and groundwater monitoring efforts should not be hampered by noted divergences in projected climate and urbanization patterns.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2503-2515
Number of pages13
JournalEnvironmental Earth Sciences
Volume71
Issue number6
DOIs
StatePublished - 2014

Keywords

  • Climate change impact assessment
  • Groundwater availability
  • Salt water intrusion
  • Sea level rise
  • Urbanization

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