Home Today Hawaii’s Freshwater Leaks to the Ocean By way of Underground Rivers

Hawaii’s Freshwater Leaks to the Ocean By way of Underground Rivers


There are few issues on the island of Hawaii which are extra priceless than freshwater. This isn’t as a result of the island is dry. There may be loads of rain. The difficulty is that there’s super demand for this water and far of it that does accumulate on the island’s floor disappears earlier than it may be used.

New analysis by marine geophysicists reveals that underground rivers operating off the big island’s western coast are a key pressure behind this vanishing act.

Freshwater is usually pumped on the island from aquifers shaped from rain at greater elevations the place it’s straightforward to entry. The disadvantage is that if an excessive amount of water will get pumped to satisfy demand, little stays to journey by way of rocks to farms and fragile ecosystems that rely upon it. To make issues worse, current research of this water labeled with isotopes and tracked over time have revealed that these aquifers are additionally closely leaking elsewhere.

“Everybody assumed that this lacking freshwater was seeping out on the shoreline or touring laterally alongside the island,” stated Eric Attias, a postdoctoral researcher on the College of Hawaii, who led the new study published Wednesday in Science Advances. “However I had a hunch that the leak may be subsurface and offshore.”

The massive island of Hawaii is like an iceberg. Solely a tiny fraction of the island stands out of the ocean. The remainder is submerged. To review the hydrogeology of those sections, Dr. Attias turned to electromagnetic imaging.

Ocean water conducts electrical energy exceptionally nicely due to the presence of dissolved salt ions. By comparability, freshwater is a relatively poor conductor. Conscious of those totally different electrical properties, Dr. Attias labored with a group at Scripps Institute of Oceanography to tow a 3,200-foot lengthy system behind a ship that emitted electromagnetic fields down by way of the submerged coastal rocks close to Hualalai volcano on the west coast.

Dr. Attias’ work reveals that throughout the rock of the island beneath the waves, there are underground rivers of freshwater flowing 2-½ miles out into the ocean. These rivers are flowing by way of fractured volcanic rock and surrounded by porous rocks which are saturated with salt water. Between all of this salt water and the flowing freshwater are skinny layers of rock shaped from compacted ash and soil that seem like impermeable and thus retaining the 2 sorts of water separated. In complete, these rivers seem to include sufficient freshwater to fill about 1.4 million Olympic swimming swimming pools.

“It seems to be fairly believable that there’s a entire lot of freshwater down there beneath the ocean,” says Graham Fogg, a hydrogeologist on the College of California, Davis who was not concerned within the research.

To entry this water, Dr. Attias proposes a system much like an offshore oil platform. “The water is already beneath excessive stress, so little pumping can be wanted and, not like an oil pump, there wouldn’t be any menace of air pollution. When you’ve got a spill, it’s simply freshwater,” he stated.

“I’m excited to see wells drilled into these offshore aquifers so we are able to learn how contemporary this water is and whether or not or not we are able to produce giant volumes with out pulling seawater into the system,” stated Mark Particular person, a hydrogeologist on the New Mexico Institute of Mining & Expertise.

But, to Dr. Attias, the actual fantastic thing about the discover is its location, and he says that gathering the water wouldn’t deprive any ecosystems on the island of hydration.

Dr. Fogg was extra cautious.

“The freshwater that they’ve found is clearly being actively fed by the aquifer on the island,” he stated. “Which means that all the aquifer system is linked and our draining of this new water might adversely affect island ecosystems and water availability for pumps on the island.”

Dr. Attias speculates that the invention may very well be related to different islands, too.

“Provided that Reunion, Cape Verde, Maui, the Galápagos and lots of different islands have comparable geology, our discovering might nicely imply that the water challenges confronted by islanders all around the world may quickly grow to be quite a bit much less difficult,” he stated.


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