Semi-Permeable Paleochannels as Conduits for Submarine Groundwater Discharge to the Coast in Barataria Bay, Louisiana

Tuesday, 16 December 2014
Alexander Breaux1,2, Alexander Kolker2, Katherine Telfeyan1, Jihyuk Kim3, Karen Haley Johannesson1 and Jaye Ellen Cable3, (1)Tulane University of Louisiana, New Orleans, LA, United States, (2)Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium, Chauvin, LA, United States, (3)University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC, United States
Many studies have focused on hydrological and geochemical fluxes to the ocean from land to the ocean via submarine groundwater discharge (SGD), however few have assessed these contributions of SGD in deltaic settings. The Mississippi River delta is the largest delta in North America, and the magnitude of groundwater that discharges from the river into its delta is relatively unknown. Hydrological budgets indicate that there is a large magnitude of surface water lost in the Mississippi’s delta as the river flows into the Gulf of Mexico. Recent evidence in our study indicates that paleochannels, or semi-permeable buried sandy bodies that were former distributaries of the river, allow for water to discharge out of the Mississippi’s main channel and into its delta driven by a difference in hydraulic head between the river and the lower lying coastal embayments. Our study uses geophysical data, including sonar and resistivity methods, to detect the location of these paleochannels in Barataria Bay, a coastal bay located in the Mississippi Delta. High resolution CHIRP sonar data shows that these paleochannel features are ubiquitous in the Mississippi Delta, whereas resistivity data indicates that lower salinity water is found during high river flow in bays proximate to the river. Sediment core analysis is also used to characterize the area of study, as well as further understand the regional geology of the Mississippi Delta and estimate values of permeability and hydraulic conductivity of sediments taken from two locations in Barataria Bay. The geophysical and sediment core data will likewise be used to contextualize geochemical data collected in the field, which includes an assessment of major cations and anions, as well as in situ Rn-222 activities, a method that has been proven to be useful as a tracer of groundwater movement. The results may be useful in understanding the potential global magnitude of hydrological and geochemical fluxes of other large rivers with abandoned distributaries and can have implications for urban planning and planning of coastal restoration projects, as many large global deltas sustain significant populations.