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Factors influencing marked variations in the frequency and timing of bar breaching and salinity and oxygen regimes among normally-closed estuaries

Hoeksema, S.D., Chuwen, B.M., Tweedley, J.R.ORCID: 0000-0002-2749-1060 and Potter, I.C. (2018) Factors influencing marked variations in the frequency and timing of bar breaching and salinity and oxygen regimes among normally-closed estuaries. Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science, 208 . pp. 205-218.

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The aim of this study was to determine the factors that influence the breaching of the bar at the mouth of estuaries that are normally-closed to the ocean and the trends exhibited by salinity and oxygen concentration in those systems during protracted periods of closure. Collated data for 1972 to 2016 demonstrate that the frequency and timing of bar breaching of three normally-closed estuaries, located along 100 km of coastline in a low rainfall region of temperate south-western Australia, differ markedly. Breaching occurred in 12 years in Stokes Inlet, ≥ eight in Hamersley Inlet and only three in Culham Inlet. Breaching in each estuary was related to relatively very high volumes of fluvial discharge. Although breaching typically occurred following exceptional winter rainfall in Stokes Inlet, whose catchment received by far the greatest winter rainfall, it usually took place in Hamersley and Culham inlets following atypically high summer and autumn rainfall, often associated with cyclonic activity. Salinity, oxygen concentration and water temperature were measured seasonally between summer 2002 and spring 2004, during which period each of these estuaries was closed to the ocean following major natural breaches of each system and the influx of substantial volumes of oceanic water. Mean salinities in the estuary basins rose by markedly different extents during the three years of closure. They thus increased from 30 in Stokes Inlet, 35 in Hamersley Inlet and 52 in Culham Inlet, to maxima of 64, 143 and 293, respectively, with the highest individual salinity of 313 in the latter estuary the greatest yet recorded for any estuary worldwide. In contrast, oxygen concentrations declined to minima of 5.5, 2.5 and 0.6 mg L−1, respectively, and were inversely related to salinity in the basin of each estuary (r = −0.7 to −0.8). Although salinities in the main river of each estuary did not become as highly elevated as in its basin, they still reached 221 in that of Culham Inlet. The very different extents to which salinity increased and oxygen concentration declined among the three estuaries reflect variations in amount of rainfall and thus fluvial discharge, the area and depth of basin relative to discharge and resilience of the bar at the estuary mouth. Thus, while a suite of factors contribute to bar breaching and physico-chemical trends in normally-closed estuaries, variations in their importance as ‘drivers’ among estuaries should be considered when studying the ecology of a given system.

Item Type: Journal Article
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Veterinary and Life Sciences
Publisher: Academic Press
Copyright: © 2018 Elsevier Ltd.
United Nations SDGs: Goal 14: Life Below Water
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