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Salinity Response of the Satilla River Estuary to Seasonal Changes in Freshwater Discharge

Authors: Jack Blanton (Skidaway Inst of Oceanography, Savannah, GA), Merryl Alber and Joan Sheldon (Dept of Marine Sciences, Univ of Georgia, Athens, GA)

Citation: Proceedings of the 2001 Georgia Water Resources Conference, Athens, GA (K.J. Hatcher, editor). pp. 619-622.

PDF: The full paper can be viewed at --

This paper describes the salinity regime in the Satilla River Estuary during two intensive field campaigns in 1999 (20 Jan - 20 Mar and 9 Sept - 19 Oct). Over the course of these observations, river discharge varied from almost 150 m3s-1 in February (twice the average) due to a single rain event in late January, to below 10 m3s-1 in May and June, after which it remained relatively low.


  • The estuary and its habitats experienced large changes in the salinity regime over a period of a few months.  The salinities observed during the surveys shifted significantly, with the approximate location of 15 PSU varying from approximately 10 km from the mouth during high discharge to further than 35 km during low flow.

  • A single rain event in late January resulted in large decreases in salinity throughout the estuary that lasted for about one week. (Salinity in Crows Harbor Reach was between 12-14 practical salinity units (PSU) on 20 Jan but fell to less than 2 PSU by 5 Feb). After early February, salinity slowly increased and had returned to near January levels by mid-April. However, salinities increased even further as the drought continued, and those observed in July 2000 were near record levels.

  • The salinity regime of the estuary was extremely responsive to changes in discharge: Discharge increased sharply at the beginning of the rain event in late Januray, and the estuary flushed out much of its salt within about 20 d. After the rain, however, discharge decreased gradually (probably as the result of freshwater storage in the watershed), and it took 70 d to return to the salinity levels observed in January.

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This page was updated October 13, 2006