Impacts of Relative Sea-level Rise on Evolution of Shallow Estuaries

  • Carl T. Friedrichs
  • David G. Aubrey
  • Paul E. Speer
Part of the Coastal and Estuarine Studies book series (COASTAL, volume 38)


The present study investigates the impact of relative sea-level rise on tidal propagation in shallow, well-mixed estuaries. Distortion of the co-oscillating estuarine tide is a composite of two principal non-linear effects: frictional interaction between the tide and channel (reflected in the scale a/h, or ratio of tidal amplitude to mean channel depth) and intertidal storage on tidal flats and marshes (measured by Vs/Vc, or ratio of volume of intertidal storage to volume of channels at mean sea level). Estuarine hypsometry (distribution of estuary surface area with height) defines a/h and Vs/Vc, and indicates whether these parameters will increase or decrease with increasing water level. The potential impact of sea-level rise is investigated utilizing both one-dimensional numerical modeling and seasonal fluctuations in mean sea levels at six shallow estuaries along the U.S. Atlantic Coast. These fluctuations are used as analogues to interannual trends in mean sea level rise. Numerical results and analysis of tidal propagation at the selected estuaries indicate that in flood dominant estuaries having relatively constant bank slope (rectangular or trapezoidal cross-section), a/h and degree of tidal distortion decrease with increased sea level. In estuaries having highly curved bank slope, a/h and Vs/Vc increase in flood and ebb dominant systems, increasing the degree of distortion and reinforcing existing tidal asymmetries. These findings have implications for the evolution of shallow estuaries as global sea level rises (an anticipated consequence of increased atmospheric trace gas loading). Whether estuaries import or export increased amounts of sediments as global sea-level rises depends on local estuarine geometry. Some systems will infill faster as sea level rises, while some will flush more efficiently. These contrasting responses to mean sea-level rise mandate a careful assessment of how any individual estuary may respond to rising water levels.


Channel Depth Tidal Inlet Tidal Prism Bank Slope Shallow Estuary 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Aubrey, D. G., 1986: Hydrodynamic controls on sediment transport in well-mixed bays and estuaries. Physics of Shallow Estuaries and Bays, J. van de Kreeke, Ed., Springer-Verlag, New York, 245–258.Google Scholar
  2. Aubrey, D. G., and C. T. Friedrichs, 1988: Seasonal climatology of tidal non-linearities in a shallow estuary. Hydrodynamics and Sediment Dynamics of Tidal Inlets, D. G. Aubrey and L. Weishar, Eds., Springer-Verlag, New York, 103–124.Google Scholar
  3. Aubrey, D. G., and P. E. Speer, 1985: A study of non-linear tidal propagation in shallow inlet/estuarine systems. Part I: Observations. Estuarine. Coastal and Shelf Science, 21, 185–205.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Boon, J. D. III, 1988: Temporal variation of shallow-water tides in basin-inlet systems. Hydrodynamics and Sediment Dynamics of Tidal Inlets, D. G. Aubrey and L. Weishar, Eds., Springer-Verlag, New York, 125–136. IGoogle Scholar
  5. Boon, J. D. III, and R. J. Byrne, 1981: On basin hypsometry and the morphodynamic response of coastal inlet systems. Marine Geology, 40, 27–48.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Boon, J. D. III, and K. P. Kiley, 1978: Harmonic analysis and tidal prediction by. the method of least squares. Spec. Report No. 186, Virginia Institute of Marine Science, Gloucester Pt., VA. 49 pp.Google Scholar
  7. Byrne, R. J., P. Bullock and D. G. Tyler, 1975: Response Characteristics of a tidal inlet: a case study. Estuarine Research. Vol. 2: Geology and Engineering, L. E. Cronin, Ed., Academic Press, New York, 201–216.Google Scholar
  8. Dronkers, J. J., 1964: Tidal Computations in Rivers and Coastal Waters, North Holland Publishing, Amsterdam. 516 pp.Google Scholar
  9. Dronkers, J., 1986: Tidal asymmetry and estuarine morphology. Netherlands Journal of Sea Research, 20, 117–131.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Fitzgerald, D. M., and D. Nummedal, 1983: Response characteristics of an ebb-dominated tidal inlet channel. Journal of Sedimentary Petrology, 53, 833–845.Google Scholar
  11. Friedrichs, C. T., and D. G. Aubrey, 1988: Non-linear tidal distortion in shallow well-mixed estuaries: a synthesis. Estuarine. Coastal and Shelf Science, 26, 521–545.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Giese, G. S., and D. G. Aubrey, 1987: Losing coastal upland to relative sea-level rise: 3 scenarios for Massachusetts. Oceanus, 30, 16–22.Google Scholar
  13. Hoffman, J. S., D. Keyes and J. G. Titus, 1983: Projecting future sea level rise: methodology, estimates to the year 2100, and research needs. Report 230-09-007, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Washington, DC. 121 pp.Google Scholar
  14. Jarrett, J. T., 1976: Tidal prism-inlet area relationships. G.I.T.I. Report 3, US Army Coastal Engr. Res. Cent., 55 pp.Google Scholar
  15. Meyer-Peter, E., and R. Muller, 1948: Formulas for bedload transport. Proc. Second Meeting, International Association of Hydraulic Research, Stockholm, Sweden. pp. 39–64.Google Scholar
  16. National Research Council (NRC), 1979: Carbon Dioxide and Climate: A Scientific Assessment, National Academy Press, Washington, DC. 496 pp.Google Scholar
  17. National Research Council (NRC), 1987: Responding to Changes in Sea Level, National Academy Press, Washington, DC. 148 pp.Google Scholar
  18. National Ocean Service (NOS), 1985: Index of Tide Stations: United States of America and Miscellaneous Other Locations. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Washington, DC. 143 pp.Google Scholar
  19. Perry, F. C, W. C. Seabergh and E. F. Lane, 1978: Improvements for Murrells Inlet, South Carolina. Technical Report H-78-4, US Army Eng. Waterways Exp. Sta., Vicksburg, MI. 339 pp.Google Scholar
  20. Postma, H. 1967: Sediment transport and sedimentation in the marine environment. Estuaries, G. H. Lauff, Ed., Amer. Assoc. Adv. Sci., Publ. 83, Washington, DC, 158–179.Google Scholar
  21. Speer, P. E., and D.G. Aubrey, 1985: A study of non-linear propagation in shallow inlet/estuarine systems. Part II: theory. Estuarine. Coastal and Shelf Science, 21, 207–224.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Uncles, R. J. 1981: A note on tidal asymmetry in the Severn Estuary. Estuarine. Coastal and Shelf Science, 13, 419–432.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag New York, Inc. 1990

Authors and Affiliations

  • Carl T. Friedrichs
    • 1
  • David G. Aubrey
    • 1
  • Paul E. Speer
    • 2
  1. 1.Woods Hole Oceanographic InstitutionWoods HoleUSA
  2. 2.Center for Naval AnalysesAlexandriaUSA

Personalised recommendations