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Environ Sci Technol. 2004 Jul 1;38(13):3558-66.

Groundwater discharge: potential association with fecal indicator bacteria in the surf zone.

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Environmental Science and Engineering, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Stanford University, Stanford, California 94305-4020, USA.


Short-lived radium isotopes (223Ra and 224Ra) are used to investigate the potential association between groundwater discharge and microbial pollution at Huntington Beach, CA. We establish the tidally driven exchange of groundwater from the surficial beach aquifer across the beach face. Groundwater is found to be a source of nutrients (silica, inorganic nitrogen, and orthophosphate) to the surf zone, and these nutrients could possibly provide an environment for enhanced growth or increased persistence of fecal indicator bacteria (FIB). Ammonium and ortho-phosphate explain up to 12-20% of the variance in FIB levels in the surf zone. Elevated levels of FIB were only found in 1 of the 26 groundwater samples. However, FIB in the surf zone covary with radium at fortnightly, diurnal, and semi-diurnal tidal periods. In addition, radium accounts for up to 38% of the variance in log-FIB levels in the surf zone. A column experiment illustrates that Enterococcus suspended in Huntington Beach saline groundwater is not significantly filtered by sand collected from the field. This work establishes a mechanism for the subterranean delivery of FIB pollution to the surf zone from the surficial aquifer and presents evidence that supports an association between groundwater discharge and FIB.

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