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Influence of artificial channels on the source and extent of saline water intrusion in the wind tide dominated wetlands of the southern Albemarle estuarine system (USA)

Manda, Alex K., Giuliano, Angela S., Allen, Thomas R.
Environmental earth sciences 2014 v.71 no.10 pp. 4409-4419
groundwater, monitoring, rivers, saline water, surface water, tides, water quality, wetlands, wind, United States
Saline water intrusion is degrading water quality in the channelized coastal wetlands of the southern Albemarle estuarine system (AES). The source, transport and fate of the saline water in the southern AES was determined by monitoring specific conductivity and water levels in small artificial channels, the Alligator River, the Alligator–Pungo Canal and the groundwater system for ~12 months. Results indicate that water levels are affected by wind tides which trigger the movement of saline water into the interior of the wetlands via the small canals. The wind tides are mostly driven by episodic southerly winds pushing saline water into the canal network and the groundwater regime proximal to the Alligator River. The saline waters persist in the canals as long as the wind tide events last. Specific conductivities from canals and groundwater are shown to be unexpectedly higher closer to the source of the Alligator River than toward the Albemarle Sound, suggesting that the large Alligator–Pungo Canal facilitates the northward migration of saline water from the Pamlico Sound to the Alligator River. Overwash and reversals in the flow directions between groundwater and surface water bodies suggest that saline water that is present during wind tide events may migrate into the groundwater system from surface water bodies. The results of this study reveal that whereas the large Alligator–Pungo Canal channels saline water to the AES, small artificial channels may also play significant roles in degrading water quality in the interior of channelized coastal wetlands.