kristina hill

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Sea-level rise (SLR) will cause coastal groundwater to rise in many coastal urban environments. Inundation of contaminated soils by groundwater rise (GWR) will alter the physical, biological, and geochemical conditions that influence the fate and transport of existing contaminants. These transformed products can be more toxic and/or more mobile under future conditions driven by SLR and GWR. We reviewed the vulnerability of contaminated sites to GWR in a US national database and in a case comparison with the San Francisco Bay region to estimate the risk of rising groundwater to human and ecosystem health. The results show that 326 sites in the US Superfund program may be vulnerable to changes in groundwater depth or flow direction as a result of SLR, representing 18.1 million hectares of contaminated land. In the San Francisco Bay Area, we found that GWR is predicted to impact twice as much land area as inundation from SLR, and 5,282 additional state-managed sites of contamination may be vulnerable to inundation from GWR in a 1.0 m SLR scenario. Increases of only a few centimeters of elevation can mobilize soil contaminants, alter flow directions in a heterogeneous urban environment with underground pipes and utility trenches, and result in new exposure pathways. Pumping for flood protection will elevate the saltwater interface, changing groundwater salinity and mobilizing metals in soil. Socially vulnerable communities are disproportionately exposed to this risk at both the national scale and in a regional comparison with the San Francisco Bay Area.