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A numerical investigation of the mechanisms controlling salt intrusion in the Delaware Bay Estuary

May 15, 2023

Salinity intrusion in coastal systems is mainly controlled by freshwater inflows. However, extreme events like drought, low-pressure storms, and longer-term sea level rise can exacerbate the landward salt migration and threaten economic infrastructure and ecological health. Along the eastern seaboard of the United States, approximately 13 million people rely on the water resources of the Delaware River basin. Salinity intrusion is actively managed through river discharge targets to suppress the propagation of the salt front (∼0.52 daily averaged psu line). The purpose of this study is to examine the mechanisms controlling the location of the salt front in the Delaware Bay estuary using a calibrated three-dimensional hydrodynamic model, the Coupled Ocean Atmosphere Wave and Sediment Transport modeling system. This study explored how river discharge, tidal motions, interactions with bathymetric and topographic features, and meteorological events affected the location of the salt front. The model was forced with tides, subtidal water levels, bulk atmospheric conditions, and waves. Compared with the observationally derived location of the salt front line, the model captured the major dynamics throughout the year and performed particularly well during times of low discharge, when salinity intruded up estuary at a constant rate of 0.4 km/day. The daily average salt front moved almost 16 km (10 mi) within a neap-spring tidal cycle, and low-pressure storm systems were found to move the daily averaged salt front by 13–16 km in one event.

Publication Year 2023
Title A numerical investigation of the mechanisms controlling salt intrusion in the Delaware Bay Estuary
DOI 10.1016/j.ecss.2023.108257
Authors Salme Ellen Cook, John C. Warner, Kendra L. Russell
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science
Index ID 70243604
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Office of the Associate Director for Water; Woods Hole Coastal and Marine Science Center