This paper examines the transient development and the steady-state configuration of groundwater within a coastal aquifer adjacent to a stratified saltwater body. Such systems consist of three different water types: the regional fresh groundwater, and low and high salinity brines forming the upper and lower water layers of the stratified water body, respectively. The dynamics, location and the geometry of the interfaces and the density-driven circulation flows that develop in the aquifer are examined using laboratory experiments and numerical modeling at the same scale. The results show that the transient intrusion of the different water bodies into the aquifer takes place at different rates, and that the locations of the interfaces between them change with time, before reaching steady-state. Under steady-state conditions both the model and the experiments show the existence of three interfaces between the three water types. The numerical model, which is calibrated against the salinity distribution and groundwater discharge rate in the laboratory experiments, allows the quantification of the flow rates and flow patterns within the aquifer. These flow patterns, which cannot be derived from laboratory experiments, show the transient development of three circulation cells which are confined between the three interfaces. These results confirm the hypothesis that has been previously suggested based solely on a steady-state numerical modeling defined by a conceptual understanding. Parametric analysis shows that the creation of three circulation cells and three interfaces is limited to certain conditions and defines the ranges for the creation of this unique system. ?? 2014 Elsevier B.V.