An estuary is a partially enclosed coastal body of brackish water with one or more rivers or streams flowing into it, and with a free connection to the open sea.Estuaries form a transition zone between river environments and maritime environments and are an example of an ecotone. Estuaries are subject both to marine influences such as tides, waves, and the influx of saline water, and to fluvial influences such as flows of freshwater and sediment. The mixing of seawater and freshwater provides high levels of nutrients both in the water column and in sediment, making estuaries among the most productive natural habitats in the world.
Most existing estuaries formed during the Holocene epoch with the flooding of river-eroded or glacially scoured valleys when the sea level began to rise about 10,000–12,000 years ago.Estuaries are typically classified according to their geomorphological features or to water-circulation patterns. They can have many different names, such as bays, harbors, lagoons, inlets, or sounds, although some of these water bodies do not strictly meet the above definition of an estuary and could be fully saline.
Many estuaries suffer degeneration from a variety of factors including soil erosion, deforestation, overgrazing, overfishing and the filling of wetlands. Eutrophication may lead to excessive nutrients from sewage and animal wastes; pollutants including heavy metals, polychlorinated biphenyls, radionuclides and hydrocarbons from sewage inputs; and diking or damming for flood control or water diversion.
The word "estuary" is derived from the Latin word aestuarium meaning tidal inlet of the sea, which in itself is derived from the term aestus, meaning tide. There have been many definitions proposed to describe an estuary. The most widely accepted definition is: "a semi-enclosed coastal body of water, which has a free connection with the open sea, and within which seawater is measurably diluted with freshwater derived from land drainage".However, this definition excludes a number of coastal water bodies such as coastal lagoons and brackish seas.
A more comprehensive definition of an estuary is "a semi-enclosed body of water connected to the sea as far as the tidal limit or the salt intrusion limit and receiving freshwater runoff; however the freshwater inflow may not be perennial, the connection to the sea may be closed for part of the year and tidal influence may be negligible".This broad definition also includes fjords, lagoons, river mouths, and tidal creeks. An estuary is a dynamic ecosystem having a connection to the open sea through which the sea water enters with the rhythm of the tides. The effects of tides on estuaries can show nonlinear effects on the movement of water which can have important impacts on the ecosystem and waterflow. The seawater entering the estuary is diluted by the fresh water flowing from rivers and streams. The pattern of dilution varies between different estuaries and depends on the volume of freshwater, the tidal range, and the extent of evaporation of the water in the estuary.
Drowned river valleys are also known as coastal plain estuaries. In places where the sea level is rising relative to the land, sea water progressively penetrates into river valleys and the topography of the estuary remains similar to that of a river valley. This is the most common type of estuary in temperate climates. Well-studied estuaries include the Severn Estuary in the United Kingdom and the Ems Dollard along the Dutch-German border.
The width-to-depth ratio of these estuaries is typically large, appearing wedge-shaped (in cross-section) in the inner part and broadening and deepening seaward. Water depths rarely exceed 30 m (100 ft). Examples of this type of estuary in the U.S. are the Hudson River, Chesapeake Bay, and Delaware Bay along the Mid-Atlantic coast, and Galveston Bay and Tampa Bay along the Gulf Coast.
Bar-built estuaries are found in a place where the deposition of sediment has kept pace with rising sea levels so that the estuaries are shallow and separated from the sea by sand spits or barrier islands. They are relatively common in tropical and subtropical locations.
These estuaries are semi-isolated from ocean waters by barrier beaches (barrier islands and barrier spits). Formation of barrier beaches partially encloses the estuary, with only narrow inlets allowing contact with the ocean waters. Bar-built estuaries typically develop on gently sloping plains located along tectonically stable edges of continents and marginal sea coasts. They are extensive along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts of the U.S. in areas with active coastal deposition of sediments and where tidal ranges are less than 4 m (13 ft). The barrier beaches that enclose bar-built estuaries have been developed in several ways:
Fjords were formed where Pleistocene glaciers deepened and widened existing river valleys so that they become U-shaped in cross-sections. At their mouths there are typically rocks, bars or sills of glacial deposits, which have the effects of modifying the estuarine circulation.
Fjord-type estuaries are formed in deeply eroded valleys formed by glaciers. These U-shaped estuaries typically have steep sides, rock bottoms, and underwater sills contoured by glacial movement. The estuary is shallowest at its mouth, where terminal glacial moraines or rock bars form sills that restrict water flow. In the upper reaches of the estuary, the depth can exceed 300 m (1,000 ft). The width-to-depth ratio is generally small. In estuaries with very shallow sills, tidal oscillations only affect the water down to the depth of the sill, and the waters deeper than that may remain stagnant for a very long time, so there is only an occasional exchange of the deep water of the estuary with the ocean. If the sill depth is deep, water circulation is less restricted, and there is a slow but steady exchange of water between the estuary and the ocean. Fjord-type estuaries can be found along the coasts of Alaska, the Puget Sound region of western Washington state, British Columbia, eastern Canada, Greenland, Iceland, New Zealand, and Norway.
These estuaries are formed by subsidence or land cut off from the ocean by land movement associated with faulting, volcanoes, and landslides. Inundation from eustatic sea-level rise during the Holocene Epoch has also contributed to the formation of these estuaries. are only a small number of tectonically produced estuaries; one example is the San Francisco Bay, which was formed by the crustal movements of the San Andreas fault system causing the inundation of the lower reaches of the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers.
In this type of estuary, river output greatly exceeds marine input and tidal effects have minor importance. Freshwater floats on top of the seawater in a layer that gradually thins as it moves seaward. The denser seawater moves landward along the bottom of the estuary, forming a wedge-shaped layer that is thinner as it approaches land. As a velocity difference develops between the two layers, shear forces generate internal waves at the interface, mixing the seawater upward with the freshwater. An example of a salt wedge estuary is the Mississippi River.
As tidal forcing increases, river output becomes less than the marine input. Here, current induced turbulence causes mixing of the whole water column such that salinity varies more longitudinally rather than vertically, leading to a moderately stratified condition. Examples include the Chesapeake Bay and Narragansett Bay.
Tidal mixing forces exceed river output, resulting in a well-mixed water column and the disappearance of the vertical salinity gradient. The freshwater-seawater boundary is eliminated due to the intense turbulent mixing and eddy effects. The lower reaches of Delaware Bay and the Raritan River in New Jersey are examples of vertically homogeneous estuaries.
Inverse estuaries occur in dry climates where evaporation greatly exceeds the inflow of freshwater. A salinity maximum zone is formed, and both riverine and oceanic water flow close to the surface towards this zone.This water is pushed downward and spreads along the bottom in both the seaward and landward direction. An example of an inverse estuary is Spencer Gulf, South Australia.
Estuary type varies dramatically depending on freshwater input, and is capable of changing from a wholly marine embayment to any of the other estuary types.
The most important variable characteristics of estuary water are the concentration of dissolved oxygen, salinity and sediment load. There is extreme spatial variability in salinity, with a range of near-zero at the tidal limit of tributary rivers to 3.4% at the estuary mouth. At any one point, the salinity will vary considerably over time and seasons, making it a harsh environment for organisms. Sediment often settles in intertidal mudflats which are extremely difficult to colonize. No points of attachment exist for algae, so vegetation based habitat is not established.[ clarification needed ] Sediment can also clog feeding and respiratory structures of species, and special adaptations exist within mudflat species to cope with this problem. Lastly, dissolved oxygen variation can cause problems for life forms. Nutrient-rich sediment from man-made sources can promote primary production life cycles, perhaps leading to eventual decay removing the dissolved oxygen from the water; thus hypoxic or anoxic zones can develop.
Nitrogen is often the lead cause of eutrophication in estuaries in temperate zones.During a eutrophication event, biogeochemical feedback decreases the amount of available silica. These feedbacks also increase the supply of nitrogen and phosphorus, creating conditions where harmful algal blooms can persist. Given the now off-balance nitrogen cycle, estuaries can be driven to phosphorus limitation instead of nitrogen limitation. Estuaries can be severely impacted by an unbalanced phosphorus cycle, as phosphorus interacts with nitrogen and silica availability.
With an abundance of nutrients in the ecosystem, plants and algae overgrow and eventually decompose, which produce a significant amount of carbon dioxide. CO2 into the water and atmosphere, these organisms are also intaking all or nearly all of the available oxygen creating a hypoxic environment and unbalanced oxygen cycle. The excess carbon in the form of CO2 can lead to low pH levels and ocean acidification, which is more harmful for vulnerable coastal regions like estuaries.While releasing
Eutrophication has been seen to negatively impact many plant communities in estuarine ecosystems.Salt marshes are a type of ecosystem in some estuaries that have been negatively impacted by eutrophication. Cordgrass vegetation dominates the salt marsh landscape. Excess nutrients allow the plants to grow at greater rates in above ground biomass, however less energy is allocated to the roots since nutrients is abundant. This leads to a lower biomass in the vegetation below ground which destabilizes the banks of the marsh causing increased rates of erosion. A similar phenomenon occurs in mangrove swamps, which are another potential ecosystem in estuaries. An increase in nitrogen causes an increase in shoot growth and a decrease in root growth. Weaker root systems cause a mangrove tree to be less resilient in seasons of drought, which can lead to the death of the mangrove. This shift in above ground and below ground biomass caused by eutrophication could hindered plant success in these ecosystems.
Across all biomes, eutrophication often results in plant death but the impacts do not end there. Plant death alters the entire food web structure which can result in the death of animals within the afflicted biome. Estuaries are hotspots for biodiversity, containing a majority of commercial fish catch, making the impacts of eutrophication that much greater within estuaries.Some specific estuarine animals feel the effects of eutrophication more strongly than others. One example is the whitefish species from the European Alps. Eutrophication reduced the oxygen levels in their habitats so greatly that whitefish eggs could not survive, causing local extinctions. However, some animals, such as carnivorous fish, tend to do well in nutrient poor environments and can benefit from eutrophication. This can be seen in populations of bass or pikes.
Eutrophication can affect many marine habitats which can lead to economic consequences. The commercial fishing industry relies upon estuaries for approximately 68 percent of their catch by value because of the great biodiversity of this ecosystem.During an algal bloom, fishermen have noticed a significant increase in the quantity of fish. A sudden increase in primary productivity causes spikes in fish populations which leads to more oxygen being utilized. It is the continued deoxygenation of the water that then causes a decline in fish populations. These effects can begin in estuaries and have a wide effect on the surrounding water bodies. In turn, this can decrease fishing industry sales in one area and across the country. Production in 2016 from recreational and commercial fishing contributes billions of dollars to the United States’ gross domestic product (GDP). A decrease in production within this industry can affect any of the 1.7 million people the fishing industry employs yearly across the United States.
Estuaries are incredibly dynamic systems, where temperature, salinity, turbidity, depth and flow all change daily in response to the tides. This dynamism makes estuaries highly productive habitats, but also make it difficult for many species to survive year-round. As a result, estuaries large and small experience strong seasonal variation in their fish communities.In winter, the fish community is dominated by hardy marine residents, and in summer a variety of marine and anadromous fishes move into and out of estuaries, capitalizing on their high productivity. Estuaries provide a critical habitat to a variety of species that rely on estuaries for life-cycle completion. Pacific Herring (Clupea pallasii) are known to lay their eggs in estuaries and bays, surfperch give birth in estuaries, juvenile flatfish and rockfish migrate to estuaries to rear, and anadromous salmonids and lampreys use estuaries as migration corridors. Also, migratory bird populations, such as the black-tailed godwit, rely on estuaries.
Two of the main challenges of estuarine life are the variability in salinity and sedimentation. Many species of fish and invertebrates have various methods to control or conform to the shifts in salt concentrations and are termed osmoconformers and osmoregulators. Many animals also burrow to avoid predation and to live in a more stable sedimental environment. However, large numbers of bacteria are found within the sediment which has a very high oxygen demand. This reduces the levels of oxygen within the sediment often resulting in partially anoxic conditions, which can be further exacerbated by limited water flow.
Phytoplankton are key primary producers in estuaries. They move with the water bodies and can be flushed in and out with the tides. Their productivity is largely dependent upon the turbidity of the water. The main phytoplankton present are diatoms and dinoflagellates which are abundant in the sediment.
It is important to remember that a primary source of food for many organisms on estuaries, including bacteria, is detritus from the settlement of the sedimentation.
Of the thirty-two largest cities in the world in the early 1990s, twenty-two were located on estuaries.
As ecosystems, estuaries are under threat from human activities such as pollution and overfishing. They are also threatened by sewage, coastal settlement, land clearance and much more. Estuaries are affected by events far upstream, and concentrate materials such as pollutants and sediments.Land run-off and industrial, agricultural, and domestic waste enter rivers and are discharged into estuaries. Contaminants can be introduced which do not disintegrate rapidly in the marine environment, such as plastics, pesticides, furans, dioxins, phenols and heavy metals.
Such toxins can accumulate in the tissues of many species of aquatic life in a process called bioaccumulation. They also accumulate in benthic environments, such as estuaries and bay muds: a geological record of human activities of the last century. The elemental composition of biofilm reflect areas of the estuary impacted by human activities, and over time may shift the basic composition of the ecosystem, and the reversible or irreversible changes in the abiotic and biotic parts of the systems from the bottom up.
For example, Chinese and Russian industrial pollution, such as phenols and heavy metals, has devastated fish stocks in the Amur River and damaged its estuary soil.
Estuaries tend to be naturally eutrophic because land runoff discharges nutrients into estuaries. With human activities, land run-off also now includes the many chemicals used as fertilizers in agriculture as well as waste from livestock and humans. Excess oxygen-depleting chemicals in the water can lead to hypoxia and the creation of dead zones.This can result in reductions in water quality, fish, and other animal populations. Overfishing also occurs. Chesapeake Bay once had a flourishing oyster population that has been almost wiped out by overfishing. Oysters filter these pollutants, and either eat them or shape them into small packets that are deposited on the bottom where they are harmless. Historically the oysters filtered the estuary's entire water volume of excess nutrients every three or four days. Today that process takes almost a year, and sediment, nutrients, and algae can cause problems in local waters.
Brackish water, sometimes termed brack water, is water occurring in a natural environment that has more salinity than freshwater, but not as much as seawater. It may result from mixing seawater and fresh water together, as in estuaries, or it may occur in brackish fossil aquifers. The word comes from the Middle Dutch root brak. Certain human activities can produce brackish water, in particular civil engineering projects such as dikes and the flooding of coastal marshland to produce brackish water pools for freshwater prawn farming. Brackish water is also the primary waste product of the salinity gradient power process. Because brackish water is hostile to the growth of most terrestrial plant species, without appropriate management it is damaging to the environment.
The coast, also known as the coastline or seashore, is defined as the area where land meets the ocean, or as a line that forms the boundary between the land and the ocean or a lake. The Earth has around 620,000 kilometres (390,000 mi) of coastline. Coasts are important zones in natural ecosystems, often home to a wide range of biodiversity. On land, they harbor important ecosystems such as freshwater or estuarine wetlands, which are important for bird populations and other terrestrial animals. In wave-protected areas they harbor saltmarshes, mangroves or seagrasses, all of which can provide nursery habitat for finfish, shellfish, and other aquatic species. Rocky shores are usually found along exposed coasts and provide habitat for a wide range of sessile animals and various kinds of seaweeds. Along tropical coasts with clear, nutrient-poor water, coral reefs can often be found between depths of 1–50 m.
Eutrophication is the process by which an entire body of water, or parts of it, becomes progressively enriched with minerals and nutrients, particularly nitrogen and phosphorus. It has also been defined as "nutrient-induced increase in phytoplankton productivity". Water bodies with very low nutrient levels are termed oligotrophic and those with moderate nutrient levels are termed mesotrophic. Advanced eutrophication may also be referred to as dystrophic and hypertrophic conditions. Eutrophication can affect freshwater or salt water systems. In freshwater ecosystems it is almost always caused by excess phosphorus. In coastal waters on the other hand, the main contributing nutrient is more likely to be nitrogen, or nitrogen and phosphorus together. This depends on the location and other factors.
A wetland is a distinct ecosystem that is flooded by water, either permanently or seasonally. Flooding results in oxygen-free (anoxic) processes prevailing, especially in the soils. The primary factor that distinguishes wetlands from terrestrial land forms or water bodies is the characteristic vegetation of aquatic plants, adapted to the unique anoxic hydric soils. Wetlands are considered among the most biologically diverse of all ecosystems, serving as home to a wide range of plant and animal species. Methods for assessing wetland functions, wetland ecological health, and general wetland condition have been developed for many regions of the world. These methods have contributed to wetland conservation partly by raising public awareness of the functions some wetlands provide.
A marsh is a wetland that is dominated by herbaceous rather than woody plant species. Marshes can often be found at the edges of lakes and streams, where they form a transition between the aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems. They are often dominated by grasses, rushes or reeds. If woody plants are present they tend to be low-growing shrubs, and then sometimes called carrs. This form of vegetation is what differentiates marshes from other types of wetland such as swamps, which are dominated by trees, and mires, which are wetlands that have accumulated deposits of acidic peat.
A salt marsh or saltmarsh, also known as a coastal salt marsh or a tidal marsh, is a coastal ecosystem in the upper coastal intertidal zone between land and open saltwater or brackish water that is regularly flooded by the tides. It is dominated by dense stands of salt-tolerant plants such as herbs, grasses, or low shrubs. These plants are terrestrial in origin and are essential to the stability of the salt marsh in trapping and binding sediments. Salt marshes play a large role in the aquatic food web and the delivery of nutrients to coastal waters. They also support terrestrial animals and provide coastal protection.
Narragansett Bay is a bay and estuary on the north side of Rhode Island Sound covering 147 square miles (380 km2), 120.5 square miles (312 km2) of which is in Rhode Island. The bay forms New England's largest estuary, which functions as an expansive natural harbor and includes a small archipelago. Small parts of the bay extend into Massachusetts.
A tidal creek or tidal channel is a narrow inlet or estuary that is affected by ebb and flow of ocean tides. Thus it has variable salinity and electrical conductivity over the tidal cycle, and flushes salts from inland soils. Tidal creeks are characterized by slow water velocity resulting in buildup of fine, organic sediment in wetlands. Creeks may often be a dry to muddy channel with little or no flow at low tide, but with significant depth of water at high tide. Due to the temporal variability of water quality parameters within the tidally influenced zone, there are unique biota associated with tidal creeks which are often specialised to such zones. Nutrients and organic matter are delivered downstream to habitats normally lacking these, while the creeks also provide access to inland habitat for salt-water organisms.
A tidal marsh is a marsh found along rivers, coasts and estuaries which floods and drains by the tidal movement of the adjacent estuary, sea or ocean. Tidal marshes experience many overlapping persistent cycles, including diurnal and semi-diurnal tides, day-night temperature fluctuations, spring-neap tides, seasonal vegetation growth and decay, upland runoff, decadal climate variations, and centennial to millennial trends in sea level and climate. Tidal marshes are formed in areas that are sheltered from waves, in upper slops of intertidal, and where water is fresh or saline. They are also impacted by transient disturbances such as hurricanes, floods, storms, and upland fires.
An aquatic ecosystem is an ecosystem formed by surrounding a body of water, in contrast to land-based terrestrial ecosystems. Aquatic ecosystems contain communities of organisms that are dependent on each other and on their environment. The two main types of aquatic ecosystems are marine ecosystems and freshwater ecosystems. Freshwater ecosystems may be lentic ; lotic ; and wetlands.
Mangrove forests, also called mangrove swamps, mangrove thickets or mangals, are productive wetlands that occur in coastal intertidal zones. Mangrove forests grow mainly at tropical and subtropical latitudes because mangrove trees cannot withstand freezing temperatures. There are about 80 different species of mangrove trees. All of these trees grow in areas with low-oxygen soil, where slow-moving waters allow fine sediments to accumulate.
Yaquina Bay is a coastal estuarine community found in Newport, Oregon, United States. Yaquina Bay is a semi-enclosed body of water, approximately 8 km² (3.2 mi²) in area, with free connection to the Pacific Ocean, but also diluted with freshwater from the Yaquina River land drainage. The Bay is traversed by the Yaquina Bay Bridge. There are three small communities that border the Yaquina River and Bay; Newport, Toledo and Elk City. The Yaquina Bay in Newport is a popular tourist destination along the Pacific Coast Highway. It is also an important estuary for the ecology and economy of the area.
Brackish marshes develop from salt marshes where a significant freshwater influx dilutes the seawater to brackish levels of salinity. This commonly happens upstream from salt marshes by estuaries of coastal rivers or near the mouths of coastal rivers with heavy freshwater discharges in the conditions of low tidal ranges.
Estuarine water circulation is controlled by the inflow of rivers, the tides, rainfall and evaporation, the wind, and other oceanic events such as an upwelling, an eddy, and storms. Estuarine water circulation patterns are influenced by vertical mixing and stratification, and can affect residence time and exposure time.
Marine habitats are habitats that support marine life. Marine life depends in some way on the saltwater that is in the sea. A habitat is an ecological or environmental area inhabited by one or more living species. The marine environment supports many kinds of these habitats. Marine habitats can be divided into coastal and open ocean habitats. Coastal habitats are found in the area that extends from as far as the tide comes in on the shoreline out to the edge of the continental shelf. Most marine life is found in coastal habitats, even though the shelf area occupies only seven percent of the total ocean area. Open ocean habitats are found in the deep ocean beyond the edge of the continental shelf.
Hypoxia refers to low oxygen conditions. Normally, 20.9% of the gas in the atmosphere is oxygen. The partial pressure of oxygen in the atmosphere is 20.9% of the total barometric pressure. In water, oxygen levels are much lower, approximately 7 ppm or 0.0007% in good quality water, and fluctuate locally depending on the presence of photosynthetic organisms and relative distance to the surface.
In oceanography, a front is a boundary between two distinct water masses. The formation of fronts depends on multiple physical processes and small differences in these lead to a wide range of front types. They can be as narrow as a few hundreds of metres and as wide as several tens of kilometres. While most fronts form and dissipate relatively quickly, some can persist for long periods of time.
Estuary freshwater inflow is the freshwater that flows into an estuary. Other types of environmental flows include instream flow, the freshwater water flowing in rivers or streams, and estuary outflow, the outflow from an estuary to the ocean.
Nutrient cycling in the Columbia River Basin involves the transport of nutrients through the system, as well as transformations from among dissolved, solid, and gaseous phases, depending on the element. The elements that constitute important nutrient cycles include macronutrients such as nitrogen, silicate, phosphorus, and micronutrients, which are found in trace amounts, such as iron. Their cycling within a system is controlled by many biological, chemical, and physical processes.
Benthic-pelagic coupling are processes that connect the benthic zone and the pelagic zone through the exchange of energy, mass, or nutrients. These processes play a prominent role in both freshwater and marine ecosystems and are influenced by a number of chemical, biological, and physical forces that are crucial to functions from nutrient cycling to energy transfer in food webs.