In the face of accelerating climate change, advancing understanding of how extreme climatic events influence estuarine salinities can help to inform resource management. Extreme salinities driven by droughts, hurricanes, floods, and freshwater flow alterations can lead to ecological transformations in estuarine ecosystems. Here, we applied the Coastal Salinity Index (CSI; Conrads and Darby 2017) to 22 years (1998–2020) of salinity data in a Louisiana estuary (Barataria Estuary, USA) to elucidate the impacts of extreme events on estuarine salinities. The CSI is an index to quantify salinity patterns at a specific location through long-term averages and deviations from historical average conditions. We calculated and compared CSI values for four stations distributed along an estuarine salinity gradient. We identified 10 events between 1998 and 2020 that produced extreme salinities, including two droughts, four hurricanes, three floods, and one freshwater diversion. The droughts of 2000 and 2006 caused surface water salinities to increase substantially throughout the estuary. The effects of hurricanes were highly variable, with some storms leading to elevated salinities throughout the entire estuary (e.g., Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005), whereas other storms led to elevated salinities for some but not all stations (e.g., Hurricanes Gustav and Ike in 2008 or Hurricane Isaac in 2012). The opening of a freshwater river diversion in 2010 contributed to fresher conditions throughout the estuary and appeared to reduce or eliminate the increases in salinity that normally occur during the summer, although these effects were short-lived. Mississippi River floods in 2008, 2011, and 2019 reduced salinities throughout the estuary, but the effects were most pronounced in the lower estuary compared to the upper estuary. Collectively, our results advance understanding of the influence of extreme events on estuarine salinity regimes. Our analyses also highlight the value of the CSI for identifying periods with extreme salinities (i.e., extreme high or low salinities) via calculations that place salinity levels within and across estuaries within a historical context.
|Title||Estuarine salinity extremes: Using the Coastal Salinity Index to quantify the role of droughts, floods, hurricanes, and freshwater flow alteration|
|Authors||Laura Feher, Michael Osland, Christopher Swarzenski|
|Publication Subtype||Journal Article|
|Series Title||Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science|
|Record Source||USGS Publications Warehouse|
|USGS Organization||Wetland and Aquatic Research Center|