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Development of a Coastal Drought Index Using Salinity Data

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  • 1 South Atlantic Water Science Center, U.S. Geological Survey, Columbia, South Carolina
  • | 2 Earth System Research Laboratory, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Boulder, Colorado
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Abstract

A critical aspect of the uniqueness of coastal drought is the effects on the salinity dynamics of creeks, rivers, and estuaries. The location of the freshwater–saltwater interface along the coast is an important factor in the ecological and socioeconomic dynamics of coastal communities. Salinity is a critical response variable that integrates hydrologic and coastal dynamics including sea level, tides, winds, precipitation, streamflow, and tropical storms. The position of the interface determines the composition of freshwater and saltwater aquatic communities as well as the freshwater availability for water intakes. Many definitions of drought have been proposed, with most describing a decline in precipitation having negative impacts on the water supply. Indices have been developed incorporating data such as rainfall, streamflow, soil moisture, and groundwater levels. These water-availability drought indices were developed for upland areas and may not be ideal for characterizing coastal drought. The availability of real-time and historical salinity datasets provides an opportunity for the development of a salinity-based coastal drought index. An approach similar to the standardized precipitation index (SPI) was modified and applied to salinity data obtained from sites in South Carolina and Georgia. Using the SPI approach, the index becomes a coastal salinity index (CSI) that characterizes coastal salinity conditions with respect to drought periods of higher-saline conditions and wet periods of higher-freshwater conditions. Evaluation of the CSI indicates that it provides additional coastal response information as compared to the SPI and the Palmer hydrologic drought index, and the CSI can be used for different estuary types and for comparison of conditions along coastlines.

For information regarding reuse of this content and general copyright information, consult the AMS Copyright Policy (www.ametsoc.org/PUBSReuseLicenses).

CORRESPONDING AUTHOR E-MAIL: Paul A. Conrads, pconrads@usgs.gov

Abstract

A critical aspect of the uniqueness of coastal drought is the effects on the salinity dynamics of creeks, rivers, and estuaries. The location of the freshwater–saltwater interface along the coast is an important factor in the ecological and socioeconomic dynamics of coastal communities. Salinity is a critical response variable that integrates hydrologic and coastal dynamics including sea level, tides, winds, precipitation, streamflow, and tropical storms. The position of the interface determines the composition of freshwater and saltwater aquatic communities as well as the freshwater availability for water intakes. Many definitions of drought have been proposed, with most describing a decline in precipitation having negative impacts on the water supply. Indices have been developed incorporating data such as rainfall, streamflow, soil moisture, and groundwater levels. These water-availability drought indices were developed for upland areas and may not be ideal for characterizing coastal drought. The availability of real-time and historical salinity datasets provides an opportunity for the development of a salinity-based coastal drought index. An approach similar to the standardized precipitation index (SPI) was modified and applied to salinity data obtained from sites in South Carolina and Georgia. Using the SPI approach, the index becomes a coastal salinity index (CSI) that characterizes coastal salinity conditions with respect to drought periods of higher-saline conditions and wet periods of higher-freshwater conditions. Evaluation of the CSI indicates that it provides additional coastal response information as compared to the SPI and the Palmer hydrologic drought index, and the CSI can be used for different estuary types and for comparison of conditions along coastlines.

For information regarding reuse of this content and general copyright information, consult the AMS Copyright Policy (www.ametsoc.org/PUBSReuseLicenses).

CORRESPONDING AUTHOR E-MAIL: Paul A. Conrads, pconrads@usgs.gov
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