Hydrogeochemistry of groundwater in coastal wetlands: implications for coastal conservation in Scotland

R Malcolm, C Soulsby

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

26 Citations (Scopus)


Groundwater in a shallow coastal aquifer in north east Scotland was monitored over the hydrological year October 1996-September 1997. Groundwater flow from inland areas sustained freshwater conditions in a dune-wetland complex of conservation importance. In particular, seasonal flooding of the coastal wetlands due to water table rise provided important roosting and breeding habitats for waterfowl. Hydrogeochemical analysis revealed that groundwater in the shallow sand aquifer was circum-neutral, and non-saline, despite being within 50 m of the sea and only 1 m above the mean high water mark. Calcium and HCO3- were the dominant cation and anion respectively, reflecting weathering processes in the aquifer. Use of the geochemical code NETPATH indicated that calcite weathering in shell fragments within the sand was the primary source of Ca and alkalinity generation. The concentrations of Na and Cl were also important, though these can be explained primarily by atmospheric inputs from precipitation. In detail, the spatial and temporal variation in groundwater chemistry was remarkably complex for what intuitively appeared a simple aquifer system. Temporal variations in groundwater chemistry mainly related to the seasonal event of groundwater recharge. Thus, the main period of rising groundwater levels resulted in a marked dilution of solutes in the aquifer, implying that water storage greatly increased in a relatively short period. A period of several weeks appeared to be required for dissolution processes to proceed to equilibrium. Spatial variation in groundwater chemistry appears to relate to the spatial distribution of geochemical processes in different hydrogeological units. Sulphate reduction, alkalinity generation and Fe precipitation appear to be locally important processes. The chemistry of groundwater maintains the wetland habitat by providing freshwater conditions that allow populations of various plant species to flourish. The potentially large recharge catchments of coastal wetlands, together with increasing pressures in the coastal zone, dictate that pollution can threaten the integrity of hydrochemical processes and requires careful monitoring if freshwater wetlands are to maintain their conservation importance. (C) 2001 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)269-280
Number of pages12
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Publication statusPublished - 2001


  • hydrochemistry
  • groundwater
  • hydrology
  • wetlands


Dive into the research topics of 'Hydrogeochemistry of groundwater in coastal wetlands: implications for coastal conservation in Scotland'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this