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Simulation of Water Levels and Salinity in the Rivers and Tidal Marshes in the Vicinity of the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge, Coastal South Carolina and Georgia

October 30, 2006

The Savannah Harbor is one of the busiest ports on the East Coast of the United States and is located downstream from the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge, which is one of the Nation?s largest freshwater tidal marshes. The Georgia Ports Authority and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers funded hydrodynamic and ecological studies to evaluate the potential effects of a proposed deepening of Savannah Harbor as part of the Environmental Impact Statement. These studies included a three-dimensional (3D) model of the Savannah River estuary system, which was developed to simulate changes in water levels and salinity in the system in response to geometry changes as a result of the deepening of Savannah Harbor, and a marsh-succession model that predicts plant distribution in the tidal marshes in response to changes in the water-level and salinity conditions in the marsh. Beginning in May 2001, the U.S. Geological Survey entered into cooperative agreements with the Georgia Ports Authority to develop empirical models to simulate the water level and salinity of the rivers and tidal marshes in the vicinity of the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge and to link the 3D hydrodynamic river-estuary model and the marsh-succession model.

For the development of these models, many different databases were created that describe the complexity and behaviors of the estuary. The U.S. Geological Survey has maintained a network of continuous streamflow, water-level, and specific-conductance (field measurement to compute salinity) river gages in the study area since the 1980s and a network of water-level and salinity marsh gages in the study area since 1999. The Georgia Ports Authority collected water-level and salinity data during summer 1997 and 1999 and collected continuous water-level and salinity data in the marsh and connecting tidal creeks from 1999 to 2002. Most of the databases comprise time series that differ by variable type, periods of record, measurement frequency, location, and reliability.

Understanding freshwater inflows, tidal water levels, and specific conductance in the rivers and marshes is critical to enhancing the predictive capabilities of a successful marsh succession model. Data-mining techniques, including artificial neural network (ANN) models, were applied to address various needs of the ecology study and to integrate the riverine predictions from the 3D model to the marsh-succession model. ANN models were developed to simulate riverine water levels and specific conductance in the vicinity of the tidal marshes for the full range of historical conditions using data from the river gaging networks. ANN models were also developed to simulate the marsh water levels and pore-water salinities using data from the marsh gaging networks. Using the marsh ANN models, the continuous marsh network was hindcasted to be concurrent with the long-term riverine network. The hindcasted data allow ecologists to compute hydrologic parameters?such as hydroperiods and exposure frequency?to help analyze historical vegetation data.

To integrate the 3D hydrodynamic model, the marsh-succession model, and various time-series databases, a decision support system (DSS) was developed to support the various needs of regulatory and scientific stakeholders. The DSS required the development of a spreadsheet application that integrates the database, 3D hydrodynamic model output, and ANN riverine and marsh models into a single package that is easy to use and can be readily disseminated. The DSS allows users to evaluate water-level and salinity response for different hydrologic conditions. Savannah River streamflows can be controlled by the user as constant flow, a percentage of historical flows, a percentile daily flow hydrograph, or as a user-specified hydrograph. The DSS can also use output from the 3D model at stream gages near the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge to simulate the effects in the tidal marshes. The DSS is distributed with a two-dimensional (

Publication Year 2006
Title Simulation of Water Levels and Salinity in the Rivers and Tidal Marshes in the Vicinity of the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge, Coastal South Carolina and Georgia
DOI 10.3133/sir20065187
Authors Paul Conrads, Edwin A. Roehl, Ruby C. Daamen, Wiley M. Kitchens
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Scientific Investigations Report
Series Number 2006-5187
Index ID sir20065187
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization South Atlantic Water Science Center