Numerical simulation and analysis of saltwater intrusion lengths in the Pearl River Delta, China

W. Zhang, H. Feng, J. Zheng, A.J.F. Hoitink, M. van der Vegt, Y. Zhu, H. Cai

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

23 Citations (Scopus)


In recent years, large-scale saltwater intrusion has been threatening the freshwater supply in the metropolitan cities surrounding the Pearl River delta (PRD). Therefore, a better understanding of the saltwater intrusion process in this region is necessary for local water resource management. In this paper, a one-dimensional flow and salinity model of the Pearl River networks was established to improve our understanding of saltwater intrusion problems in deltas. The model has high spatial resolution, discretized into 328 reaches and 5108 cross-sections, and the time step is 300 seconds for the hydrodynamic model and 30 seconds for the salinity model on the basis of the Courant–Friedrichs–Lewy condition. The model is calibrated and validated against the field measurements of the water surface elevation, discharge, and salinity at around 40 gauges in 2005 and 2001, respectively. The estimated results are in reasonable agreement with the observational data, suggesting that the model is sufficiently robust to simulate the movement of flow and salinity in the Pearl River networks. The simulated 0.5 parts per thousand salinity isohaline in the Pearl River networks displays a shape similar to “S” and slanting to the right, indicating that the maximum saltwater intrusion length occurs at the Humen outlet. In 2005, the saltwater intrusion lengths intruded far upstream at an average length of 32.4 km from the eight outlets, which is nearly two times that in 2001. Four representative upstream flows were also simulated to acquire quantitative knowledge of the response of the saltwater intrusion to discharges. Finally, historical data were collected to compare the situations of saltwater intrusion in the river networks in the 1960s and 2005. The result implies that the abrupt change in topography due to intensive dredging campaigns in the river networks is probably the most crucial factor leading to the saltwater intrusion outbreaks in large areas of the PRD in recent years
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)372-382
JournalJournal of Coastal Research
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2013


  • partially stratified estuary
  • salt intrusion
  • mixed estuary
  • salinity
  • discharge
  • dynamics
  • flow

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