Evaluating salinity sources of groundwater and implications for sustainable reverse osmosis desalination in coastal North Carolina, USA

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The natural and pumping-induced controls on groundwater salinization in the coastal aquifers of North Carolina, USA, and the implications for the performance of a reverse osmosis (RO) desalination plant have been investigated. Since installation of the well field in the Yorktown aquifer in Kill Devil Hills of Dare County during the late 1980s, the groundwater level has declined and salinity of groundwater has increased from ∼1,000 to ∼2,500 mg/L. Geochemical and boron isotope analyses suggest that the salinity increase is derived from an upflow of underlying saline groundwater and not from modern seawater intrusion. In the groundwater of four wells supplying the plant, elevated boron and arsenic concentrations were observed (1.3–1.4 mg/L and 8–53 μg/L, respectively). Major ions are effectively rejected by the RO membrane (96–99% removal), while boron and arsenic are not removed as effectively (16–42% and 54–75%, respectively). In coming decades, the expected rise of salinity will be associated with higher boron content in the groundwater and consequently also in the RO-produced water. In contrast, there is no expectation of an increase in the arsenic content of the salinized groundwater due to the lack of increase of arsenic with depth and salinity in Yorktown aquifer groundwater.





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Vengosh, A, David S Vinson, Haylee G Schwartz and Gary S Dwyer (2011). Evaluating salinity sources of groundwater and implications for sustainable reverse osmosis desalination in coastal North Carolina, USA. Hydrogeology Journal, 19(5). pp. 981–994. 10.1007/s10040-011-0738-x Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10161/7355.

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Avner Vengosh

Nicholas Distinguished Professor of Environmental Quality

Avner Vengosh is a Distinguished Professor and Nicholas Chair of Environmental Quality at the Nicholas School of the Environment. He is the chair of the Division of  Earth and Climate Sciences. Professor Vengosh and his team have studied the energy-water nexus, conducting pioneer research on the impact of hydraulic fracturing and coal ash disposal on the quantity and quality of water resources in the U.S. and China. He has also investigated the sources and mechanisms of water contamination in numerous countries across the globe, including salinity and radioactivity in the Middle East, uranium in India, fluoride in Eastern Africa, arsenic in Vietnam, and hexavalent chromium in North Carolina and China. As part of these studies, his team has developed novel geochemical and isotopic tracers that are used as fingerprints to delineate the sources of water contamination and evaluate potential risks for human health. Currently, his team is engaged in studying phosphate rocks geochemistry and the impact of fertilizers on soil and water quality, unconventional sources of critical raw materials, and potential environmental effects of lithium mining from hard rocks and brines. He is a Fellow of the Geological Society of America (GSA) and International Association of Geochemistry (IAGC). In 2019, 2020 and 2021 he was recognized as one of the Web of Science Highly Cited Researchers. He serves as an Editor of GeoHealth and on the editorial board of the journal Environmental Science and Technology. He has published 171 scientific papers in leading international journals. His recent cross-disciplinary book “Water Quality Impacts of the Energy-Water Nexus” (Cambridge University Press, 2020) provides an integrated assessment of the different scientific and policy tools around the energy-water nexus. It focuses on how water use, and wastewater and waste solids produced from fossil fuel energy production affect water quality and quantity. Summarizing cutting edge research, the book describes the scientific methods for detecting contamination sources in the context of policy and regulations.

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