The Effect of Submarine Groundwater Discharge on the Ocean

Ann Rev Mar Sci. 2010;2:59-88. doi: 10.1146/annurev-marine-120308-081019.


The exchange of groundwater between land and sea is a major component of the hydrological cycle. This exchange, called submarine groundwater discharge (SGD), is comprised of terrestrial water mixed with sea water that has infiltrated coastal aquifers. The composition of SGD differs from that predicted by simple mixing because biogeochemical reactions in the aquifer modify its chemistry. To emphasize the importance of mixing and chemical reaction, these coastal aquifers are called subterranean estuaries. Geologists recognize this mixing zone as a site of carbonate diagenesis and dolomite formation. Biologists have recognized that terrestrial inputs of nutrients to the coastal ocean may occur through subterranean processes. Further evidence of SGD comes from the distribution of chemical tracers in the coastal ocean. These tracers originate within coastal aquifers and reach the ocean through SGD. Tracer studies reveal that SGD provides globally important fluxes of nutrients, carbon, and metals to coastal waters.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Environmental Monitoring
  • Fresh Water / chemistry*
  • Geological Phenomena*
  • Oceans and Seas
  • Water Microbiology
  • Water Movements*