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Studying Submarine Ground-Water Discharge at Dor Beach, Israel

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study site at Dor Beach
Above: Study site at Dor Beach, Israel, showing time-series resistivity lines (1, 2, 4, 5). TS-Rn, anchored boat used for time-series 222Rn measurements; kurkar well, deep coastal well in a shore-parallel sandstone ridge, or "kurkar"; piezometer, temporary well for collecting ground-water samples at discrete depths. [larger version]
U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) scientist Peter Swarzenski traveled to Israel in 2005-06 to study submarine ground-water discharge—the flow of ground water directly into seawater—on Israel's Mediterranean coast. Swarzenski, William Burnett (Florida State University), Yishai Weinstein (Bar-Ilan University, Israel), and additional participants from institutions in Florida and Israel conducted high-resolution geophysical and geochemical surveys at Dor Beach to examine the shallow coastal hydrogeology and its control on the flow of submarine ground water into the Mediterranean Sea. The geophysical surveys employed a multi-electrode cable to measure marine resistivity (which yields information about pore-water salinity), marking the first time this new technique has been used outside of Florida. The scientists reported their results in the December 2006 issue of Geophysical Research Letters (see article, "Combined time-series resistivity and geochemical tracer techniques to examine submarine groundwater discharge at Dor Beach, Israel").

About 25 km south of Haifa in northern Israel, Dor is the site of an ancient port where ongoing archeological research has traced evidence of diverse civilizations—including Phoenicians, Israelites, Persians, and Greeks—back to at least 3,000 years before the present (see the Tel Dor Project). The town lies on the Carmel coastal plain, which has undergone large fluctuations in sea level during late Holocene time. For example, at the Dor Beach study site, an old Arabic well that today is tidally inundated and thus defunct was situated about 7.5 m from the coast line in 1915 and still operational; the well's history implies that sea level at Dor Beach has risen more than 10 cm in just one century. A sea-level record constructed from geologic, geomorphologic, and archeological data indicates mean-sea-level fluctuations of about 1 m above and below present sea level during the past 3,000 years (Science, 1984, v. 226, p. 831-832; see URL

With funding from the United States-Israel Binational Science Foundation, the USGS Submarine Ground-Water Discharge project has conducted studies at Dor since 2004, using various methods to better understand the role of the area's subsurface geology in submarine ground-water discharge and the proportion of recycled seawater in this discharge. The March 2006 fieldwork focused on shallow coastal hydrogeology at Dor Beach and its control on the exchange of submarine ground water with Mediterranean seawater.

Dor Beach, Israel, showing 56-electrode cable
Above: Dor Beach, Israel, showing 56-electrode cable used to collect stationary resistivity measurements (line 1 on map). The 112-m-long cable's midpoint was positioned close to the low-tide line; about two thirds of the cable was submerged at high tide. Sandbags were used to enhance contact between each electrode and the underlying sediment. Note sandstone ridges, known locally as kurkar, rising above the water. Time-series 222Rn measurements were conducted from a 15-ft-long boat anchored 40 m offshore (above cable, between shoreline and horizon). View westward. [larger version]

The two-way exchange of coastal ground water with seawater is a ubiquitous phenomenon driven by both marine and terrestrial processes. On the marine side, this exchange is affected by water-level fluctuations, such as waves, tides, and storms, as well as by density differences between various water masses. On the terrestrial side, the flow of ground water toward the sea is affected by the underlying geologic framework and seasonal hydrologic cycles. Although the global volume of freshwater delivered to the sea by submarine ground-water discharge is typically estimated to be much less than that of freshwater delivered by river discharge, the potential of submarine ground water to carry contaminants and excess nutrients into coastal waters makes it an important influence on the nearshore environment.

Swarzenski and his colleagues examined the shallow coastal hydrogeology at Dor Beach by using time-series measurements (measurements taken at regular time intervals) of both radon-222 (222Rn) concentrations and multi-electrode electrical resistivity. Resistivity measurements detect pore-water conductivity on the basis of variations in electrical resistance; ground water generally has lower salinity and lower conductivity (higher resistivity) than seawater. Measuring pore-water resistivity with electrical cables towed behind small boats—called streaming resistivity profiling—has proved to be a useful technique (for example, see Sound Waves article, "Progress in Delineating Submarine Ground-Water Discharge in Delmarva Coastal Bays"). At Dor Beach, however, the scientists used a new technique: a stationary 112-m long, 56-electrode marine cable laid out in several configurations—shore parallel, shore perpendicular, and shore diagonal—across Dor Beach and into the adjacent lagoon (see map). Pore-water resistivity was measured for about 24 hours (to cover a couple of tidal cycles) in each configuration. The measurements made at Dor enabled the scientists to construct detailed profiles of the subsurface freshwater/saltwater interface and its subtle response over time to tides and other forcing factors. Such data can provide unique information about the extent and rates of submarine ground-water discharge. Before the fieldwork at Dor Beach, the stationary method for collecting marine resistivity data had been used only in Florida (see Sound Waves article, "USGS and Florida State University Scientists Collaborate on Submarine-Ground-Water-Discharge Study in the Northern Gulf of Mexico.")

Profiles of inversely modeled resistivity
Above: Profiles of inversely modeled resistivity along a shore-diagonal transect (line 4) during low (upper profile) and high (lower profile) tide. Tidal range, 45 cm. Red colors indicate fresher (ground) water; blue colors, saltier (sea)water. Vertical axis shows depth below ground surface measured from the elevation of the highest electrode, arbitrarily set at zero. A ground-water exchange rate of 7 m3 per day per meter of shoreline was calculated by using data from the small outlined cell (labeled "A" in upper profile, "B" in lower profile), where ground-water seepage was visible at low tide. [larger version]

Time-series measurements of 222Rn concentrations in the adjacent coastal water column complemented the resistivity data. 222Rn has been shown to be a particularly effective tracer of sediment/water exchange processes, including submarine ground-water discharge, because this isotope is commonly much more concentrated in ground water than in surface water, is chemically inert, and radioactively decays at a rate (half-life = 3.82 days) comparable to the time scales of many coastal processes. At Dor Beach, the scientists measured 222Rn concentrations in the water column nearly continuously for 4 days from a boat anchored about 40 m from shore (see map). Concurrently, they collected a continuous record of the temperature, salinity, and depth of the water column.

The 222Rn data were modeled to yield flow rates across the sediment/water boundary, which ranged from about 0 to 30 cm per day (mean = 7.1 cm per day), depending on the tidal range. Such results suggest that the underlying hydrogeologic framework at Dor is favorable for substantial submarine ground-water discharge. Extrapolating the mean estimate across a 100-m-wide coastal zone implies a submarine-ground-water-discharge rate of about 7.1 m3 per day per meter of shoreline, an estimate in good agreement with that derived from the resistivity data. The 222Rn data further indicate that the source of the discharging ground water is a mixture of mostly fresh ground water derived from upland kurkar (shore-parallel sandstone ridges interpreted as lithified sand dunes) and recycled seawater.

Low tide at Dor Beach Israel Oceanographic and Limnological Research building
Above left: Low tide at Dor Beach, Israel, where shore-parallel, multi-electrode resistivity measurements were conducted along the intertidal zone. [larger version]

Above right: Israel Oceanographic and Limnological Research building in Haifa. The research institute is directed by Barak Herut, a collaborator in the March 2006 study at Dor Beach. [larger version]

The recent fieldwork produced detailed information about submarine ground-water discharge at Dor Beach and demonstrated the value of combining geochemical-tracer studies with stationary high-resolution resistivity measurements. These results have identified the varying geologic controls on coastal-aquifer exchange processes and give coastal-resource managers the information they need to better calculate the amount of nutrient input to these coastal systems.

The full citation for the scientific paper about the recent study at Dor Beach is:

Swarzenski, P.W., Burnett, W.C., Greenwood, W.J., Herut, B., Peterson, R., Dimova, N., Shalem, Y., Yechieli, Y., and Weinstein, Y., 2006, Combined time-series resistivity and geochemical tracer techniques to examine submarine groundwater discharge at Dor Beach, Israel: Geophysical Research Letters, v. 33, L24405, doi:10.1029/2006GL028282 [URL].

For additional information about this and other USGS submarine-ground-water-discharge investigations, visit the Submarine Groundwater Discharge project.

Related Sound Waves Stories
Progress in Delineating Submarine Ground-Water Discharge in Delmarva Coastal Bays
June 2006
USGS and Florida State University Scientists Collaborate on Submarine-Ground-Water-Discharge Study in the Northern Gulf of Mexico
March 2006

Related Web Sites
Combined time-series resistivity and geochemical tracer techniques to examine submarine groundwater discharge at Dor Beach, Israel
Geophysical Research Letters
Tel Dor Project
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Holocene Sea Level Changes at the Coast of Dor, Southeast Mediterranean
Submarine Groundwater Discharge
U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)
Israel Oceanographic and Limnological Research
Haifa, Israel

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Surveying Faults and Sediment Outside San Francisco Bay

Submarine Ground-Water Discharge at Dor Beach, Israel

Outreach Middle-School Students Envision a Future City

Meetings Assessing Microbes in Ground Water

Chinese Delegation Briefed on USGS Science

Restore America's Estuaries Conference

Awards Scuba Scouts Recognize USGS Employees

Publications Estuaries and Coasts Special Issue

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Updated April 15, 2014 @ 01:53 PM (JSS)