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Development of a Coastal Drought Index Using Salinity Data

March 24, 2016

A critical aspects of the uniqueness of coastal drought is the effects on salinity dynamics of creeks and rivers. The location of the freshwater-saltwater interface along the coast is an important factor in the ecological and socio-economic dynamics of coastal communities. Salinity is a critical response variable that integrates hydrologic and coastal dynamics including streamflow, precipitation, sea level, tidal cycles, winds, 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 which has a negative impacts on water supply. Indices have been developed incorporating data such as rainfall, streamflow, soil moisture, groundwater levels, and snow pack. 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. The challenge for the salinity data analysis is to characterize the salinity dynamics in response to drought while excluding responses attributable to the occasional and (or) periodic saltwater intrusion events. An approach similar to the Standardized Precipitation Index was modified and applied to salinity data obtained from sites in South Carolina and Georgia. Evaluation of the coastal drought index indicates that the index can be used for different estuary types, for regional comparison, and as an index for wet (high freshwater inflow) and drought conditions. This data release will provide all the supporting data for the journal article including salinity datasets (with estimated missing values) and the computed indices.