In our study, we systematically analysed how seawater enters coastal aquifers under varying sea-level-rise scenarios for different types of coastal environment. We found that important thresholds or "tipping points" exist. If sea-level rises even slightly above these tipping points, the effects of seawater intrusion could be much more damaging than previously thought. The result implies that coastal aquifers that previously reacted only mildly to small changes in sea-level change may respond much more dramatically to similar changes in the future.

We found that tipping points appear to be affected by the following parameters:

  • spatial: related to the depth of a coastal aquifer or aquifer section, implying that deeper aquifers or those found along the coastline are more vulnerable;
  • temporal: related to when sea-level change occurs, which allows us to determine when certain critical tipping points will be crossed;
  • managerial: related to how coastal groundwater is managed. Coastal groundwater pumping must be controlled so that a sufficiently large amount of remaining groundwater is still able to flow to the coast to avoid reaching critical tipping points in certain forthcoming sea-level-rise scenarios.

With these considerations in mind, we now plan to study the critical groundwater tipping points in important coastal regions around the Mediterranean Sea.

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