EGU General Assembly 2023
© Author(s) 2023. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Geophysical monitoring of the fresh-saline groundwater interface in Belgian polders

Guillaume Blanchy1, Ali Mehmandoostkotlar2, Bert Everaert3, Dominique Huits3, Sarah Garré2,4, Thomas Hermans5, and Frédéric Nguyen1
Guillaume Blanchy et al.
  • 1University of Liege (ULiege), Liege, Belgium
  • 2Flanders Research Institute for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (ILVO), Melle, Belgium
  • 3Inagro, Roeselare, Belgium
  • 4KULeuven, Leuven, Belgium
  • 5University of Ghent (UGent), Ghent, Belgium

Polders are areas reclaimed on the sea thanks to hydraulic structures like dikes. To prevent flooding, these low-lying areas are constantly drained by a network of ditches that release excess water in the sea (e.g. at low tide). The use of subsurface drainage pipes connected to existing drainage ditches further enabled the drainage of the lands and made them suitable for agriculture. While the groundwater remains saline water from its seaborn nature, with years and precipitation, a fresh water lens, lighter than the deeper saline water, developed near the soil surface, on top of the saline water. This fresh water lens is essential for most conventional crops that would suffer from saline conditions. The thickness of freshwater lenses varies throughout the year as a function of the recharge from rainfall and evapotranspiration.

However, intensive rainfall events and prolonged summer droughts are becoming more frequent with Climate Change and lead to decreasing freshwater lens thickness, endangering crop yield. Controlled drainage systems that enable to regulate the water level in the subsurface drains has the potential to mitigate this issue by imposing a temporary higher water level, hence increasing recharge of the freshwater lens. 

To better understand the dynamics of the fresh/saline water interface throughout the year, we equipped two fields with multilevel piezometers with both head and salinity sensors replicated three times in each field. Along each multilevel piezometer we also installed 1D resistivity sticks with 16 electrodes to obtain a vertical electrical resistivity profile. In addition, electromagnetic induction surveys enabled us to expand the local observations to the entire area (4 ha in total).

The datasets collected in the two fields in the conventional scenario (i.e. without controlled drainage) during the first year, showcase the usual dynamics of the interface, its lateral as well as vertical variability. The use of geoelectrical techniques enable us to distinguish fresh and saline water boundaries and its variability per soil layers. The electromagnetic induction surveys reveal old paleochannels that influence the dynamics of the freshwater lens at the field-scale. Moreover, the dataset also demonstrates how different crops (grass and flax) lead to different ground water and salinization dynamics. In this work, we present our first year of collected field data and related interpretation before the installation of the controlled drainage system.

How to cite: Blanchy, G., Mehmandoostkotlar, A., Everaert, B., Huits, D., Garré, S., Hermans, T., and Nguyen, F.: Geophysical monitoring of the fresh-saline groundwater interface in Belgian polders, EGU General Assembly 2023, Vienna, Austria, 24–28 Apr 2023, EGU23-7736,, 2023.